news 27 Jun 14

Serbia May Probe Future State Officials' Diplomas

The Education Ministry is pushing for legal changes to enable the verification of officials' diplomas after a scandal over claims that the Interior Minister plagiarised some of his PhD.

The Education Ministry’s Centre for Checking Diplomas will be given powers to verify all new state officials’ diplomas under the planned legislative changes, BIRN has learned from a ministry source.

"The idea is that the Centre prevents people with fake diplomas from working in state institutions in the future," the source said.

According to the ministry source, when someone is to be employed in a state institution, his or her diploma would be sent to the Centre for checking before the hiring process is completed.

The comes after Serbia's academic community was shaken by a row over accusations that Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic lifted parts of his PhD thesis from other people's work.

But the proposed introduction of checks does not mean that current state officials' diplomas will also be verified.

Serbian Education Minister Srdjan Verbic told a press conference on Thursday that no one can verify all diplomas, only deal with suspicions over officials’ diplomas in the future.

The Education Ministry is pushing for legislative changes "as soon as possible."

The row over alleged dodgy diplomas erupted after the publication of an article by three British-based Serbian academics on the Pescanik.net website entitled: “How to get a PhD? Easy! The case of Nebojsa Stefanovic.”

They claimed that the minister plagiarized parts of his thesis on strategic management in local government, citing the relevant parts of Stefanovic’s dissertation.

Afterwards, some professors from the University of Belgrade also analyzed Stefanovic’s PhD thesis, accusing him of breaking academic rules.

Stefanovic and his thesis mentor, Mica Jovanovic, rector of the private Megatrend University, have denied the claims.

However, the rector's standing has been undermined by revelations that he falsely claimed to have obtained his PhD at the London School of Economics.

In 2012, the Education Ministry found that of 2,000 diplomas issued by Serbian universities, about 10 per cent of them were forgeries.

Watchdog organisation Transparency Serbia has also alleged that many state officials have fake diplomas.

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