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Fairplay and equal chances at Higher Education institutions: diverse perspectives from Georgia, Germany, Moldova and Ukraine

Ana Moraru (Moldova)

has received her Master in Comparative International Development Education from the University of Minnesota (USA) and has been working for five years in the area of capacity-building and adult education.

Participants in the Workshop held at Essen, Germany, July 2018

Academics and education practitioners from Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine came together in Essen, Germany, in July this year to debate on scholarly integrity and dishonesty, and the ethical dilemmas encountered in higher education institutions within their economic, social and cultural contexts. 

These debates took place during a workshop that was made possible thanks to funding from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) within the “East-West Dialogue” programme, and the dedication of a mixed organizing and teaching team from the University of Duisburg-Essen, the German-Ukrainian Academic Society, the Interdisciplinary Corruption Research Network (ICRN) and the International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO).

The sometimes heated discussions focused on the importance of codes of conduct and the processes associated with them – elaboration, adoption, development of rules of procedure for violations, the establishment of honor committees and the essential role communication plans have in the dissemination of relevant information on campus and beyond. They culminated in a resolution that recognizes the commitment of each country to take effective action against corruption and ensure equal access to high-quality education.

Despite a similar history – all three countries are former republics of the Soviet Union– the integrity risks in higher education mentioned by the participants varied significantly.

Plagiarism – whether it be unidentified incorrectly cited sources – was a particular problem for academic staff in Georgia. University codes of conduct lack clear provisions in this regard, making it difficult for staff to determine the disciplinary measures to be taken in accordance with the gravity of the breach.

In Ukraine, a major challenge mentioned by participants had to do with the downsizing of universities due to diminishing student numbers. Measures ensuring fair and transparent decision-making do not exist, leading to a high risk of corruption when departments are merged or staff are dismissed. For the participants of the workshop, the lack of intellectual property rights was another red flag in the Ukrainian university system, especially since universities are more and more involved in collaborative national or international research projects. In this context, participants stressed that particular attention should be paid to protecting students’ research results.

When talking about Moldova, participants identified abuse of authority, along with social acceptance of bribing as areas of particular concern. Reforms and tools which have been developed to shrink the extent and frequency of bribe exchanges in universities have not been completely successful. In one higher education institution, a crackdown by the National Anti-Corruption Center uncovered 102 000 EUR (2 mln MDL) in cash which is presumed to have been collected as illegal fees from students who were getting graded for exams they did not take.

In Moldova and Ukraine, and to a lesser extent Georgia, a shift is needed in social norms and attitudes, community expectations and cultural perceptions in order to make corruption unacceptable. Nevertheless, unethical behavior can also be attributed, in large part, to the poor financial situation faced by academics in these countries. In order to address the root of the problem, measures, such as raising salaries and restoring the prestige of academic professionals, should be implemented alongside codes of conduct and procedures for their implementation. In this connection, participants in the workshop developed a resolution as a first step to improve integrity in their institutions and countries.

The resolution includes both crosscutting recommendations and targeted recommendations for Governments, Higher Education Institution (HEI) administrations and management, faculty and students, and external stakeholders, as well as a “case section”. More general and cross-cutting recommendations such as “fostering international cooperation aimed at continuing promotion of academic integrity and zero tolerance to corruption in the academic community” are supplemented with more specific and country tailored ones.

As a matter of illustration, recommendations for Moldova include: “ensuring free access to information” and “following transparent, fair recruitment procedures when selecting students for international education programmes”. For Ukraine the introduction of “a clear and comprehensive legal framework” dealing with Intellectual Property is deemed important, while for Georgia recommendations focus on the fact that “HEIs should prevent intolerant and disrespectful treatment of vulnerable groups with regard to continuing internationalization of higher education”.

The case section includes three concrete case descriptions (from each of the countries) and corresponding guidelines and solutions. It aims at increasing the significance of the resolution for the three different national contexts. The intention and hope is that such a “tailored” approach would inspire countries with similar backgrounds to develop tailored resolutions for themselves.

After the workshop, participants plan to share the resolution with relevant national authorities and the institutions they represent, and help them make ethical and anti-corruption standards a reality.

For a more comprehensive list of general and country-specific recommendations, please refer to the text of the resolution available here

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