The proliferation of institutions offering degrees in the twentieth and twenty first
centuries, and the ubiquitousness of the internet, have opened up a plethora of opportunities
for individuals seeking academic credentials. It has also led to a concomitant rise in the
number of questionable providers. This research investigates the psychological factors that
predict interest in the attainment of qualifications, both from recognized and unrecognized
institutions. What do individuals seek to achieve from gaining a qualification and why is it
that some individuals seek out fake credentials? The fact that some do, has created an
international billion-dollar industry.
The study is contextualised in Social Cognitive Career Theory in the field of
vocational psychology. I used the concept of an arch and keystone to conceptually relate
these theories to framing my research. From the pillar representing vocational psychology
two key elements have particular relevance to my research. The dispositional traits of
neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness link to traditional
personality theories. The addition of honesty/humility brings it into the domain of six factor
theory and is highly relevant to my research. Characteristic adaptations of goals/strivings,
work values, self-efficacy, career adaptability, and developmental tasks forge a link with
career and employability. The dispositional approach to employability links to the concept of
self-perception leading in turn to an examination of Self Determination Theory of which
Basic Psychological Needs Theory is a subset. The study is well grounded in the literature
and seeks to explore why an individual might purchase a fake degree.
The research comprised two studies, adopting a qual®QUAN mixed methods design.
The first study involved semi-structured interviews with a targeted, purposive sample of 15
graduates. The purpose was to ascertain their views about academic credentials and to
explore themes pertaining to career-related decisions and the attractiveness of postgraduate
degrees. The second study involved participants completing an online survey in order to
explore whether it was possible to predict the purchasing of a fake degree by individuals
seeking a credential. Key outcomes from the research were the design of a new measure, the
Academic Worth Scale (AWS) and a rigorously tested model of factors pertaining to the
subscales derived from the factor loadings of the AWS: entitlement, decidedness, shortcut
knowledge, limited effort/ease of completion, lifestyle and prestige/aspiration. Goodness-offit
indicators for the measurement models of the AWS were deemed moderate.
The findings of the two studies were insufficient to predict interest in actually purchasing a
fake degree. More research needs to be undertaken in this domain. But the creation of the
Academic Worth Scale (AWS), while open to refinements, provides an instrument for future
researchers to undertake further investigations in this field.