HYDERABAD: Even after failing a term, a student of Mehran University of Engineering and Technology (MUET) batch of 1996 managed to become an engineer.
The way Aijaz Iqbal Arain, a student of mechanical engineering, managed to get his degree is likely to expose corrupt varsity officials, the bribery culture and the ease with which degrees can be forged.
A subsequent audit report of MUET by the ISO 9001:2008 also pointed out omissions in a related section of the university, the controller of examinations, which gives weight to the fake degree scandal.
However, the officials claimed that there is more to it than meets the eye. “This has become a business. Those involved rake in millions [of rupees] against each [fake] degree they are issuing,” claimed one officer.
The university authorities deny the charges but they confirmed that an inquiry about issuance of the degree to Arain, having ID number 96ME25, is underway. Arain was, however, unavailable for comments despite repeated attempts.
The issue surfaced in July 2015, when Arain’s academic record was sent to MUET for verification through a third party, Karachi-based Human Resource Solutions International. The verification was sought by Arain’s employer, Lahore-based Descon Engineering Limited.
In September 2015, MUET wrote a letter to the third party stating that the final term marks sheet of Arain, which was submitted for verification, was found ‘fake, fabricated, fictitious and bogus’. “Arain approached us from several sources, pressuring us to give him the degree,” MUET examinations controller Suhail Ahmed Khatian told The Express Tribune, denying that he caved into the pressure or any bargain.
However, on February 24 this year, MUET issued the degree to Arain, who even obtained the pass certificate on February 8 and, prior to that, the mark sheets. Interestingly, the office record mentioned Kiran Kumar Luhana, a 1996 batch graduate belonging to the same department and bearing ID number 96ME32, as recipient of the degree, certificate and marks sheets.
Both Luhana and Arain have been shown to have secured first division with 67.07%. Even their book number, 075, and pass certificate number, 7410, are the same.
According to university policy, students are issued the original degree if they failed to collect it after graduation. A student who was given the degree but submits an application for another one is issued a duplicate one. A copy of the issued degree and certificates is given to the student and another one, marked as ‘office copy’, is kept in varsity’s record. In Arain’s case, the original degree was issued to him while the office copy contained Luhana’s name.
A month later this scandal began making rounds in the circle of the officials concerned, entailing a confused response from the authorities. MUET vice-chancellor Dr Muhammad Aslam Uqaili constituted a four-member inquiry committee to submit its report to him within two weeks. The terms of reference of the committee stated, “… to conduct enquiry to determine the case of issuance of the degree certificate serial No.BE013227 to a failure ex-student Mr Aijaz Iqbal.”
The ad, which was published in apparent violation of MUET’s policy, stated that the BE Mechanical Engineering degree issued to Arain has been cancelled. While language of the committee’s terms of reference and the advertisement clearly states that the degree was issued and cancelled later, Dr Uqaili and Khatian give contradictory versions.
“That boy [had] cheated. He changed [Luhana’s] name [with his name] on the photo copy [of the degree and certificates],” the VC told The Express Tribune. Meanwhile, Khatian insisted that Arain forged the degree himself. “There are some computer software with the help of which such fake degrees can be prepared,” he argued, adding that less than a hundred such cases of former failed students counterfeiting bogus degrees and certificates have surfaced since he took charge some years ago.
It has been nearly two weeks since the VC’s deadline passed but the committee has yet to submit its report. “The university is off on this or that day and then there were exams,” said Uqaili. “We want to see [that the] things should come in a very, very transparent manner … and all should get the option to clarify themselves.”
ISO 9001:2008 audit
On April 28, an independent audit by a team of ISO 9001:2008 also found glaring omissions in the MUET examination controller’s department. These include lack of clarity of the authorities’ matrix as to who is authorised for what; lack of secrecy in department’s security where the doors were found open; manual, handwritten ledgers that have yet to be computerised and untrained coordinators for ISO.
“The handwritten ledgers [which contain the entire academic record of the current and former students] are instrumental in fraud of fake degrees,” claimed an official, who requested anonymity. “This fraud is done mostly in the old batches from the year 2000 or before. The record is showed missing or incomplete.”
As per the rules, the varsity maintains two copies of each ledger. One is kept in the secret section and other in the tabulation section. But in violation of this rule, both the copies, according to the source, are being kept in the secret section.
Since the 2013 batch, MUET began computerising the ledgers besides also preparing the manual ledgers. When asked why the record of 2012 and before is not being computerised, the VC cited financial resource constraint.
For his part, the examinations controller said he is not aware of any ISO audit that pointed out shortcomings in his department. “The actual reason for not computerising the ledgers is to keep the door open for forgery,” another officer claimed.
The Secret Branch is where the academic record of all the students who have been enrolled in MUET since it was founded as a college has been stored. It is an essential part for the verification process of the degrees, certificates and mark sheets.
This section is supposed to be headed by a BPS-18 deputy controller secret or secrecy officer. However, a retired BPS-14 employee, Ghulam Rasool Pathan, continues to look after this section even after his retirement in 2014.
“We have not hired him on contract. He has just been given six months assignment for the second time,” said Dr Uqaili, fumbling to explain the re-hiring of a retired staff in violation of the Supreme Court’s order.
The VC went on to justify Pathan being the right person for the job saying the deputy controllers in the examination section are not trained for the purpose. According to the official sources, there are at least four deputy controllers with on-going and former experience of working in the section but the authorities are averse to posting them in the secret section. “Not one of them will put himself in Pathan’s shoes,” said an official.
A letter written in March by the examinations controller to the registrar also contradicts the VC’s claim about hiring Pathan. “Contractual re-engagement period of Ghulam Rasool Pathan, ex-superintendent of the examination department, expired on February 29. It is therefore requested that his contractual re-engagement tenure may kindly be extended for further period,” read the letter, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune.
Advertisement in contravention
Apart from the suspicious degree awarding, even the publishing of the ad is embroiled in controversy. The MUET publishes its ads in three dailies – one each of English, Urdu and Sindhi languages. After approval from the relevant university sections, the public relations office forwards an ad to an advertising agency, which subsequently obtains a release order (RO) number from the Press Information Department before giving the ad to the newspapers.
In Arain’s case, the PRO office directly gave the ad of degree cancellation to a Sindhi daily, sidestepping the university’s policy of routing it through the agency and PID, and publication in three newspapers of as many languages. “We are an autonomous institution. This is the trickery of the APNS that we have to take the PID number before giving an ad,” said MUET’s public relations officer Imdad Soomro.
He argued that the varsity rules allow the PRO office to publish an ad directly in one or more newspapers in exceptional cases. Soomro gave example of the court notices which are given short deadlines. However, he could not explain how Arain’s case was exceptional as the university has yet to conclude the inquiry.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 1st, 2016.