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Don’t dishonour doctorates

WE’VE heard of fake degrees, certificates and Datukships for sale.

With some using unscrupulous ways just to get titles and academic qualifications, the Government is stepping up its efforts to prevent another avenue from being misused – honorary doctorates.

Given by public and private higher education institutions, one of the main purposes of awarding honorary doctorates is to recognise the outstanding achievements of individuals in their respective fields and to appreciate their contributions to society.

However, the usage of the honorary “Dr” title is limited to within the awarding university. And no, recipients aren’t allowed to put the “Dr” title in front of their names in public.

As a reminder to be vigilant about any misrepresentation and use of fraudulent awards, the Higher Education Ministry has sent out guidelines in March to both public and private higher education institutions on the issuance of honorary doctorates.

The universities have been asked to inform the ministry prior to finalising its decision to award honorary doctorates.

This is done to avoid potential repercussions involving the institution and the country’s reputation.

“In the usual course of events, the ministry will not object to the issuance of honorary doctorates.

“If the recipient is an international figure, the ministry will seek feedback from the Foreign Ministry. This is to ensure that diplomatic protocols are observed,” the ministry says in an email to Sunday Star.

Noting the recent cases of usage of fraudulent academic awards – which are not only confined to honorary doctorates, the ministry wants universities to be alert towards those who claim to receive awards from their institutions.

“Ensuring that recipient information is readily available, the ministry will help document and publish honorary doctorate awards on the ministry’s website.”

The list of recipients of honorary doctorates is expected to be published online by later this year, once the ministry obtains information from the universities.

This move is similar to the setting up of the database on PhDs maintained by the ministry and will further strengthen measures against misuse of titles.

In a statement dated Nov 6 last year, the ministry voiced its seriousness in taking action against the production and usage of fraudulent academic titles by individuals and organisations, with the most common being the “Dr” title.

It announced that a PhD registry will be set up for all PhD holders in the country and automatically register those who graduate with a PhD locally.

For those who graduate with a PhD from abroad, verification can be sought from the respective universities.

Recognising the importance of giving honorary doctorates to worthy candidates, the ministry says such a worldwide practice comes with good intentions to commemorate the achievements of individuals and their contributions to society.

“As such, the letter issued to higher education institutions acts as a reminder to ensure that giving such awards is done with the highest of standards.”

The ministry wants to play a facilitative role, as opposed to regulating such practices.

“The awarding of honorary degrees is largely an institutional affair.

“The ministry respects and acknowledges the role played by an institution’s senate in this process,” it says, adding that National Council of Professors has also published a guideline on the usage of honorary doctorate titles.

Referring to the ministry’s circular, Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities president Datuk Dr Parmjit Singh says universities were asked to seek the ministry’s views before finalising the award of honorary doctorates.

“It is more of an advisory from the ministry, and not a compulsion to seek the ministry’s prior approval,” he clarifies.

Dr Parmjit advises universities to exercise prudence and seek the ministry’s views as it would have far wider access to information and access to other agencies including Wisma Putra in the case of foreign nominees.

“This will enable university senates to make informed decisions. This ‘vetting’ process could be carried out before the senate makes its final decision.

“We see this as a prudent approach in issuing these honorary awards, which should be conferred selectively so as not to dilute its prestige,” he adds.

Dr Parmjit says universities need to address the issue of misrepresentation, or individuals who falsely claim to have been awarded with honorary doctorates.

“To prevent this, universities should publish recipients of honorary awards on their websites to ease verification by external parties. The misuse of honorary awards may also be prevented by universities issuing clear guidelines to recipients on the use of the awards,” Dr Parmjit suggests.

“Each university should have its own criteria in awarding honorary doctorates, and these should be in line with the mission and vision of the university and international best practice.

“While all nominations are ultimately approved by the respective university senates, it is the responsibility of the university to ensure that recipients of such awards are truly deserving and would represent the university and the country in the best possible light,” Dr Parmjit says.

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