Corruption in higher education: can quality assurance make a difference?

Author(s) : Martin, Michaela; Poisson, Muriel

Organization : Council for Higher Education Accreditation (USA), CHEA

Imprint : Washington, D.C., CHEA International Quality Group, 2015

Collation : 2 p.

Series : CHEA Policy brief, 5

Opportunities for corruption are manifold in higher education. They are present during financial transactions (such as grants, subsidies or fellowships), or when contracts of construction or maintenance are attributed. Opportunities for corruption also typically emerge during admission and examination procedures. Malpractices can be related to professional misconduct such as teacher absenteeism, abuse of power, or illegal fees charged to students and their families. Lack of academic integrity such as plagiarism and falsification of research evidence are another set of ever more frequently encountered malpractices. The development of diploma mills delivering false credentials and diplomas, as well as of accreditation mills issuing fraudulent accreditation (Hallak and Poisson, 2007b) have been observed during recent years. Furthermore, given the potential economic benefits that arise from quality assurance decisions, there is also a strong risk that quality assurance (QA) systems themselves become an object of corruption by providing wrong or distorted evidence on the nature of higher education services. It can be argued that quality assurance has a high potential to prevent corruption, when it is geared towards control and accountability to stakeholders, when it is compulsory, and when it uses accreditation as its main mechanism for quality assurance. Since accreditation applies a standard-based quality model, there are many opportunities for accreditation agencies to insist on the existence of integrity structures, policies, and practices at the level of higher education institutions (HEIs), and to spread existing good practices across the higher education sector. Since accreditation takes place only every three to five years, it is of course not the only solution to corruption; but accreditation can clearly have a strong signalling effect for higher education institutions. In order to make quality assurance more effective in the prevention and detection of corruption, it is, however, evident that expectations expressed in standard systems for accreditation need to be translated by the authorities of higher education institutions into procedures of internal quality assurance (IQA), for which they are responsible. It needs to be acknowledged that HEIs are the main actors in the prevention and identification of risks of corruption and malpractices, provided they are given adequate guidance and resources to translate national policies into institutional practices.

  • Accountability, Corruption, Ethics, Quality assurance and accreditation, Higher education