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Everything you need to know about Qualification Checks

An Introduction to Qualification Checks

Whether it’s a university degree, a GCSE or a technical qualification, education is often considered the main marker of whether a candidate can carry out a role successfully and safely. Carrying out qualification checks are a crucial part of employment screening. 

Online background checking helps you get the full picture of your candidates to empower a better hiring decision. Whatever role or industry you’re employing for, finding the best people for the job is crucial to the success of your business. 

In this post, we discuss qualification checks as part of our “Everything You Need to Know” series. We’ll provide the complete lowdown on education checks; what they uncover, why they’re so important, which candidates should have the check and what part diploma mills play in fraudulent qualifications.


What Are Qualification Checks? 

Qualification checks determine a candidates academic and educational achievements. A complete qualification check will confirm the time and place of study as well as any grade achieved. Qualification checks are carried out directly with the institution in question.

Qualification checks often include checking membership to professional organisations.

A qualification check will confirm whether or not a candidate holds qualifications such as:

  • GCSE’s
  • A-Levels
  • University degrees
  • Foundation degrees
  • Master’s degrees
  • Doctorates
  • Professional qualifications such as diplomas
  • NVQs
  • HNC/HND
  • Honour’s Degrees
  • BTEC’s

Qualification checks must also be carried out for each country of study or residence. A specialist screening provider will validate qualifications from all countries of residence. Academic and qualification verification also include checks for professional qualifications and memberships, which is independently confirmed by the awarding or membership body.

“Fraudulent job applications account for 63% of internal fraud” - CIFAS

Academic Achievement Checks and Fraud

The use of fake qualifications in employment is rising. The UKs fraud prevention service CIFAS revealed that 63% of employment fraud is related falsified qualifications or experience. 

Qualification fraud is particularly prevalent in healthcare and financial sectors, where professional qualifications are often mandatory for certain positions.

Why Are Qualification Checks Important?

Qualification checks are important for two main reasons:

  1. To confirm the education level and qualifications of a candidate
  2. To verify the accuracy of other information provided by a candidate

Your company is only as good as your employees, and it is crucial that anyone you hire is able to carry out their role will accuracy, skill and safety. The consequences of hiring an unqualified employee can include:

  • Risk to personal safety – that of customers, clients, other staff, members of the public
  • Exposure to fraudulent activity or imposters
  • Financial implications – from stolen assets or fines for non-compliance
  • Reputational damage 


Qualification Checks are also known as Educational Background Checks, Proof of Education or Verification of Education 

Application fraud is constantly rising and the job market increasingly competitive. Making the wrong hiring decision is a very common, but costly, mistake.

Many trusting companies fall for convincing candidates, leaving employment screening until after the candidate has had access to company assets. But it is crucial that qualification verification is carried out before the candidate sets foot on site or is given access to data.

“In a competitive market, individuals seem to be tempted to lie on their CV to get a job and are likely to not only embellish qualifications, but also seemingly go to great lengths to ensure their achievements and skills are backed up by fraudulent references.”  - Tracey Carpenter (Member Relationship Manager CIFAS)


What are Diploma Mills?

The UK, with over 300 known diploma mills, is sadly known as Europe’s diploma mill capital. But what are diploma mills and why are they so dangerous?

Diploma mills are bogus universities or higher education institutions that offer “students” a fast track qualification. Students frequently require no academic study and qualifications from diploma mills are not recognised by accrediting bodies.

Diploma mills often provide highly convincing looking certificates and have exceptional websites which can make qualifications seem authentic to both employers and prospective students.

It is not uncommon for students themselves to be unknowingly duped by diploma mills. In a cutthroat employment landscape, applicants are looking for a fast way to be qualified for their dream career or stand out above the competition. 

Many positions depend on academic or professional qualifications, such as in healthcare or financial roles. As an employer in these industries, it doesn’t make any difference whether a candidate was previously aware that their qualification is a fake. Employing someone without the necessary skills or experience could lead to dangerous consequences for your business, other staff and members of the public as a result of negligence or dishonest practice.


Key characteristics of diploma mills and fake qualifications:

  • No physical site – genuine places of study will list their location. Genuine institutions who exclusively offer remote learning will list a registered address.
  • No accreditation
  • Candidates haven’t had to interact with teachers or professors and haven’t had to do any homework
  • Flat fee – most genuine universities charge by the credit or semester
  • Degree awarded based on life experience – while universities sometimes award credits for certain subject related experience, no genuine degree will be awarded entirely on life experience (the only exception here are honorary degrees which are awarded by legitimate institutions to recognise a persons work in a certain area.)



Qualification Check Glossary of Terms

Here are some of the key terms you might come across in a Qualification Check:

A-Levels – General Certificate of Education Advanced Level certificate (GCE A-Level), studied in England, Wales and NI. 3 A-levels are often required for university entrance requirements

APEL – Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning, provides a qualification based on knowledge and ability gained through work or other experience

APL – Accreditation of Prior Learning, recognition of academic study carried out in the past. Often used to satisfy entry requirements or for course credit

AS-Level – The first part of an A-level. Sometimes considered half an A-level, but must be combined with A2 level, the second part, in order to become a full A-Level

BA/BSc – Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science, a first degree qualification, sometimes called an undergraduate degree

BTEC (Apprenticeships/Firsts/Nationals) – A series of vocational qualifications previously offered by the Business and Technology Education Council, now validated and offered by Pearson

CFE/CHE – College of Further Education/College of Higher Education

CIFE – The Council for Independent Further Education, a professional association of independent 6th form colleges

City and Guilds – an examining and accreditation body offering work related and vocational qualifications 

Dip HE – Diploma of Higher Education. A university level qualification that takes two years of study, common in healthcare and financial sectors

Foundation Degree – A university level vocational qualification that is equal to the first 2 years of a bachelors degree, students can often convert to a full degree following a further year of study

GCSE/IGCSE – General Certificate of Secondary Education/International Certificate of Secondary Education

Higher – Scottish qualification taken at age 16-18, it usually takes one year, before students move on to Advanced Highers the following year.

HNC – Higher National Certificate, vocational qualification equivalent to 2 or 3 A-levels

HND – Higher National Diploma, vocational qualification equivalent to the first two years of a bachelor’s degree

IB – International Baccalaureate, a two year course equivalent to 6 A-levels, it is available in several countries including the UK and counts towards admission criteria for higher education

MA/MSc – Master of Arts or Master of Science, postgraduate degree qualification or Scottish first degree

NVQ – National Vocational Qualification – a qualification related to a specific area of employment

PGCE – Postgraduate Certificate in Education, qualification which allows the holder to teach in UK primary or secondary schools.

PG Cert/PG Dip – Postgraduate certificate or postgraduate diploma, both are taught postgraduate qualifications.

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How Long Does A Qualification Check Take?

When carried out by a reputable screening company, a qualification check should take no longer than 7 days, but are often completed much more quickly. 

Which Roles Require A Qualification Check?

Qualification checks and academic achievement checks should be carried out for all candidates in all roles and all sectors.Where a role is dependent on certain qualifications in particular, academic achievement checks must be carried out prior to the candidate having access to company data, property, customers or clients. 


Potential Difficulties Of Qualification Checks

Qualification checks are an essential tool in the hiring process. They ensure that candidates have the necessary skills and academic training in order to carry out a role safely and effectively. 

Proof of education can also give extra confirmation of other information provided by candidates throughout the application process. 

But with diploma mills who peddle fraudulent qualifications on the rise, as well the growth in remote learning (where legitimate institutions offer online based study), verifying qualifications has become even more problematic. 

Specialist screening providers are experienced in spotting fake qualifications and will ensure that all academic achievements and professional memberships are genuine.

Key Points

  • Qualification checks ensure that candidates have the necessary qualifications for a role
  • Also confirms memberships to professional bodies
  • Provides peace of mind that candidates are skilled and knowledgeable
  • Validates other information provided by candidates throughout the hiring process
  • Qualification checks are crucial for all roles in all sectors and industries
  • Diploma mills provide candidates with fake but highly authentic seeming qualifications
  • Changes to the way we work and study make spotting counterfeit documents much harder


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