Corruption in Higher Education

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Last week as I was scanning the higher ed trade journals, an article caught my eye entitled, “Corruption in Higher Education Appears to Be on the Rise Globally.” In reading the article, I was introduced to an organization new to me … Transparency International.

Transparency International was founded in 1993 and now has 100 national chapters worldwide. This organization describes itself as “independent and accountable” ... stating that they “are politically non-partisan and place great importance on our independence. We alone determine our programmes and activities – no donor has any input into Transparency International’s policies. Our sources of funding are made transparent as is our spending.”

The organization was founded for a simple but challenging purpose … to address corruption in the world in areas of government, business, society and individual lives. The organization takes public positions, conducts research, and is active in many projects throughout the world. One of their recent studies focused on education.

The lengthy study provided two interesting and important perspectives. First, there is a delineation of corrupt practices. In the United States, the most challenging concern is plagiarism. This finding comes as no surprise to those of us who teach college students. We continue to find evidence of students using someone else’s work as their own or more commonly, using the “cut and paste” feature on their computers without appropriate citation and reference.

The corruption problems in other parts of the world are more pervasive. The report cites entire systems of education that are totally corrupt. Unethical practices include widespread falsification of grades, payoffs to faculty and administrations prior to completion of degrees, requirements to purchase professors’ books in order to receive a passing grade, sexual exploitation of students by faculty and administrators and falsification of applications.

While most of these systemic problems were found to a greater extent in other parts of the world, falsification of application materials is also an issue in this country. This study found this problem to be more common with international students seeking to study in this country who submit personal statements written by someone else and falsified Toefl and other language proficiency scores.

But a large part of this study may be even more important than exposing corrupt practices. The report reflects the organization’s priority to “ensure that the next generation is prepared to say no to corruption.” It describes a number of specific actions and strategies to combat corruption, and address the abuse of power, bribery and secret dealings that are “corroding the educational experience.” The report challenges governments, international organizations, businesses, educational systems, and civil society to “ensure good governance is promoted in education policy all over the world.”

In reading this report, I was simultaneously depressed and enthusiastic. It is sad to see the continued evidence of corruption and the erosion of integrity in the educational systems throughout the world. Teaching and learning are noble professions and I always want to believe that those who choose to teach and lead educational institutions do so with a commitment to truth, fairness and quality.

But this report also embraces the value of shaping both minds and hearts. While we have a responsibility to provide students with knowledge, we must also help them to develop wisdom. We are responsible to help them develop values that will serve their personal goals and the Common Good.

I encourage you to visit the website of Transparency International. The battle to overcome corruption may be daunting, but this organization is fighting the good fight!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

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Guest Wednesday, 30 July 2014