Addressing corruption in higher education

August 23, 2016
  • AACRAO Connect
  • International Admissions and Credential Evaluation

In March of this year, UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP) and the International Quality Group of the US Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA/CIQG) met in Washington D.C. to discuss the growing problem of dishonest practices in higher education. On the heels of that meeting, in July 2016, they published a joint Advisory Statement for Effective International Practice titled "Combatting Corruption and Enhancing Integrity: A Contemporary Challenge for the Quality and Credibility of Higher Education."

Highlights of the report are below. Read the full report here.

Why integrity matters

The statement emphasizes the importance of ensuring that future leaders are educated in an environment in which integrity and honesty--not corruption--are the norm. Otherwise, students learn dishonesty as though it were part of the curriculum, making misrepresentation or misconduct an assumed part of their professional fields, and thereby part of their communities.

Additionally, and perhaps obviously, "the needs of societies cannot be met if graduates do not have the competencies that HEIs purport to have given them." Indeed, the report notes, people’s lives may actually be endangered by the issuance of phony credentials.

Examples and preventative measures

The statement gives examples of corrupt practices--and offers preventative suggestions--in areas including:

  • The regulation of higher education systems (such as granting institutional license in return for bribes)
  • Teaching (such as altering student marks in return for bribes or other favors)
  • Student admissions and recruitment (such as participating in cheating rings for admissions tests)
  • Student assessment (such as sale of exam papers or exam-related material and use of essay mills)
  • Credentials and qualifications (such as use of degree mills and accreditation mills)
  • Research theses and publications (such as suppression of inconvenient research results by commercial and other interests)

Call to action

"Governments, quality assurance agencies and HEIs worldwide must become more aware of the threat that corruption poses to the credibility, effectiveness and quality of higher education at a time when its importance as a driver of global development has never been higher," the report states. 

Necessary steps include:

  • External quality assurance agencies must be empowered to review the risks of corruption in their work.
  • HEIs must ensure that their IQA frameworks are fit for combatting corruption.
  • Staff should have more training and support to identify and expose corrupt practices.

"Academic corruption is an international problem that afflicts rich and poor countries alike," the report concludes. "Creating networks of organizations that are fighting corruption and greater North-South collaboration in capacity building for this purpose are highly desirable. CHEA/CIQG and IIEP will consider how they might best support such initiatives and will also publish further documents on this issue."