Fake degrees and our political future

FEBRUARY 14 — Malaysians are in love with degrees, it’s not the best kept secret.

Obviously, this means by extension they, the rakyat, despise lies about degrees— when academic credentials are falsely represented.

Which immediately explains why EDU-gate — the ongoing scandal over politicians with dubious tertiary qualifications — draws the interest of tens of thousands of WhatsApp groups. It festers, even if the discussions veer into the ridiculous and comical.

Plus, the Internet does not forget. It supplies effortlessly about past transgressions.

Detractors dredge up campaign posters, electronic communications, university alumni status checks and the accused’s social media.

The incessant queries may eventually hand the targeted, PhDs — permanent head damage.  

But how not to care about transcripts when education dominates our lives?

Degrees motivate millions to arrange their lives around their children’s schooling.

Family savings and spending gather around how to pay for it, today and tomorrow.

Admission and graduation days are days families come together.

Does the obsession confess a national hang-up over elitism and access?

Not straightforward, that part.

Why fake it?

Let’s rephrase the contention.

Why do various businessmen and politicians seek suspect paths to academic recognition even after prior success raising money or a political base?

They already found revenue or a willing party, why parade falsities?

Perhaps, to justify their success and most certainly, to find broader acceptance.

To legitimise their wealth or power in the eyes of a judgemental population.

So, when there is evidence this moral fortitude is built on deception via a diploma mill, the very crowd they want to win over bay for blood. Their blood.

The unsympathetic line holds sway here, to live by the sword and thereafter to die by the sword.

If they wanted to ascend using duplicitous academic certification, how to lament when they fall unceremoniously when the ruse is found out?

The rallying cry now should be, “Can we go after the rest too?”

The people-exploiter entrepreneur or the retiree who met a guy who knows a guy at the bus stop who can facilitate a high-level research-free PhD within a year?  

‘My sacrifice’

I don’t feel it is vengeful when those who paid their dues to gain their qualifications are in turn pissed off with those insincerely passing off as their peers.

There is an opportunity cost to a respectable qualification. Those who have done their time find it grossly unfair those spared the torment are allowed to enjoy the perks.

This is where a large chunk of middle Malaysia is annoyed. The late 1970s to early 1990s was a time when most Malaysian families had their first graduates, a symbol of middle-class perseverance paying off. Therefore, politicians with bogus qualifications offend the worth of their own trials and tribulations. Relegating their own stories to a university degree.

This is why even those not titillated by political shadow play and subterfuges are quickly attracted to speak out against fake degrees. It is a primal insult.

Vote translators

Academic credentials win elections. Voters are suspicious of those academically challenged.

Parents remind their offspring — as theirs did so to them — no price is too high to acquire qualifications. It is the ticket to success.

And candidates who mirror the aspirations of these parents — who look for role models for their kids — are regarded highly.

Therefore, false academic representation may have resulted in the wrong guy winning.

Some of these under-fire politicians claim their subordinates and representatives were the ones who flaunted their absent degrees, and therefore it absolves them of complicity. This approach lacks integrity, the suggestion that they were not party to the duplicity.

The Internet continues to churn out instances in the past where they could have corrected the misrepresentation, but these personalities turned a blind eye until accusations landed at their front door. It’s disingenuous behaviour, one which does not require a degree to recognise.

Academic baggage

The lack of a degree does not mean failure. There are those with valid degrees, even PhDs, who lack the ability to compete with a doorbell.

A political career to the top is permissible without any education, since voters determine in a democracy. It is lying about competencies which forms the bedrock of this critique.

Played cleverly, it’s potent, the tale of rising from the ashes. The self-made man who struggled and made a future for himself.

The respect Asians have for education, is equalled — if not exceeded — by the passion they have for those who strive despite starting from a position of disadvantage. The willingness to strive is more powerful when early setbacks or poverty is overcome by informal learning.

There would be ultimately more regard for those arriving from unconventional political journeys.

There is also the other obvious fact, politics is performing arts.

Public appearance is synonymous in that work-life. If one has capacity despite lacking formal education — but hardened by the school of hard knocks coupled with application — his speeches would be erudite and organisational work in the party or community inspiring.

His promotion a certainty.

Reality check

The politicians attacked by large are average. These are not brilliant thinkers blighted by unfortunate indiscretions. The averageness explains their willingness to “graduate” from these “institutions” of some sort of learning.

The development underlines what many suspected long before, they wanted to use fake degrees to mask their inadequacies. This is the discomforting point.

If to maintain the veneer of competence self-justifies their fake academic requirements, what else are they willing to misrepresent further to burnish their political credentials or win political competitions?

At the heart of this examination is the quality of the person, the political leader, and his willingness to adopt quick illegal fixes to cover his shortcomings.

What else is he willing to compromise for personal gain in the eyes of the public?

Qualifications

As society deep dives into the digital age, degrees would matter less and less, as competency and capacity can be exhibited without the blessings of a university.

Which is brilliant in both ways, those without degrees can show what they can do without the shackles of formal education, and those with degrees are expected to deliver independent of their qualifications — the paper just got them past the front door, ability rules from hereon.

What would not change is the realisation false representations of a person’s critical components, wilfully, like about their education displays a deep disrespect for integrity.

Countries need integrity, not the least from their politicians.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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