Friday 20 June 2008

Let's be frank about degrees

I received an interesting email last week. No, it wasn’t a Nigerian informing me that she had many millions of dollars stuck in a bank account and would I help her move them offshore and take 25% of the amount as a commission. Nor was it a health company offering me Viagra, cheap medications or herbal cures for non-existent problems. It wasn’t even telling me that I had won the Mongolian National Lottery and all I had to do to get my winnings was to send them my bank account details and ID number.

It was something that seemed almost legitimate. The email was from the JT Frank Academy in Malaysia offering me a place on their “Global Certificate in Knowledge Management” course. For a mere $1,600 (excluding the cost of travel, accommodation, food, drinks and exotic tropical diseases) I could attend their 5-day session in Kuala Lumpur.

Attached to the email was a very colourful electronic brochure that told me a lot more than I wanted to know about the opportunity they were offering me (and a million other people I imagine). By attending this course I could become a “Certified Global Internal Consultant”. How have I managed to survive all these years without this prestigious honour?

The brochure and the web site were full of the sort of language I loathe. The course contains sessions on topics as thrilling as “Specific guidelines to operationalise the physical architectures”, “Capitalising on Formal micro teams to spearhead the Practice of Knowledge Management” and, well, you get the picture.

But better than just attending the course I was also offered the opportunity to schedule the courses myself, here in Botswana. I was invited “to be our Global Collaboration Partner to represent and collaborate with us TO OFFER The JT Frank Global Certificate in Knowledge Management (CIKM) to your corporate clients”. If I did so I would be able to keep up to 30% of the fees paid by course participants. If I managed to get 25 people to attend I would make a grand total of $12,000. Presumably that’s before I paid the cost of the venue and probably the travel and accommodation costs of the Malaysians who would come and deliver this astonishing material.

Before any Knowledge Management specialists get angry with me please believe that I’m not denigrating the subject itself which is obviously very important in this information age. I’ve even been known to talk to my customers about the critical difference between information and knowledge but my objection is taking such a complex subject and making it nonsensical, pompous and terribly self important by doing no more than using a bunch of long words.

Anyway, back to the invitation. The reason I reacted to this was that the JT Frank Academy approached me (and the other squillion people on their mailing list) with exactly the same offer last September. I was offered the same opportunity as well as similar incentives.

However, that earlier email suggested that if I helped them to schedule the course here it might have been facilitated by a certain Dr Frankie Ow DBA who was described as their Chief Knowledge Architect. So far, so good. However being the person I am, I wondered where he received his DBA, a Doctorate in Business Administration. A little research showed it was awarded by St George University International, a well known diploma mill. This distinctly dodgy establishment was well known for having no apparent educational standards and has awarded it’s so-called degrees around to world to people who, one might assume, can’t be bothered to get a real doctorate.

So I emailed “Dr” Ow about this, asking if he actually meant the perfectly respectable St George University in Grenada, or whether he was happy to be known as someone who had a fake degree.

Surprisingly he actually emailed me confirming that his degree was from the SGU International. He told me that he was replying to my e-mail “as a matter of professional courtesy”, that he had 26 years experience in very important things and that, most importantly he was “proud and perfectly happy with both my DBA and St. George University International”.

Unhappily for me, he signed off by saying “I would like to very politely inform you that this e-mail will be my first and the only respond to you on this matter”.

Clearly I’m not going to say that there’s anything wrong with the JT Frank Academy nor with it’s founder, “Dr” Ow. I’m not saying that the course and opportunity they offer aren’t fantastic, once in a lifetime, career-enhancing opportunities to make some money. All I am saying is that their founder openly discusses the fact that his main qualification is from an establishment that nobody recognises and that personally I would never knowingly associate with such an organisation.

In the last couple of years I’ve encountered a handful of people, here in Botswana, with “degrees” from unaccredited institutions. Some of them obtained positions or promotions as a direct result of these fake qualifications. Some of them have since been found out and have lost their jobs.

And the other thing? When you think about it it’s not actually that flattering to receive an offer like this. These people had never heard of me and I had never approached them. I have no idea where they got my email address. Maybe there’s not that much difference between their email and all the other email spam I get?

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