IIEP Policy Forum on Planning Higher Education Integrity

The IIEP Policy Forum on Planning Higher Education Integrity (Paris, 18-20 March 2015) brought together nearly 60 higher education experts and stakeholders from around the world to discuss recent and innovative initiatives aimed at improving transparency and reducing opportunities for fraud or corruption at the university level.

Participants included university vice-chancellors and administrators, researchers, and representatives of education ministries, international agencies, research funding organizations, civil society, students’ organizations, and the media.

Planning higher-education integrity might very well become a requirement for a growing number of countries and universities in years to come, ”emphasized Muriel Poisson, Head of IIEP’s Research and Development Team, in her introductory remarks. Several factors point to this, in particular the growing concern of funders that shrinking resources be used appropriately, the need to protect the reputation of higher-education institutions and trust in their diplomas, and the obligation for public officials and institutions to defend themselves against allegations of fraud and corruption.

The Policy Forum opened with a discussion about the risks and costs of corruption in higher education, followed by a debate on the usefulness – as well as the limits – of ethical and regulatory frameworks to contain these risks. The second day focused on supporting integrity in the management of higher-education systems and on improving academic integrity. The best use of public access to information and open data was debated on the third day when representatives of student organizations also discussed opportunities for youth to become involved in promoting higher education integrity.

Risks and costs

Over the course of the three-day conference, participants reported many different corruption risks which higher education is currently facing around the world. A participant from Eastern Europe, for example, raised concerns about how personal relations and bribes are a more effective way of gaining acceptance to university than getting good marks in school, while the President of the Council for Higher Education

Accreditation reported on the prevalence of fake diplomas. Other participants spoke about the misuse of funds by universities in the Philippines.

Goolam Mohamedbhai, Former Secretary-General, Association of African Universities, pointed to another problem:

The Chancellor in many African public universities is still appointed by the state president (or the minister), and although s/he plays essentially a ceremonial role, the chancellor has the important responsibility of appointing or approving the appointment of, key governance positions such as the chair of the council or the vice-chancellor, and this can create room for political interference. Although a political appointment does not necessarily lead to interference, it invariably creates an area of influence and must therefore be discouraged.

Integrity planning at higher education level

Participants shared their own experiences on how to improve the planning of integrity in higher education. Particular efforts that were discussed included:
  • integrity rankings of universities (Romania and Colombia);
  • the development of a comprehensive political framework to fight plagiarism (UK); 
  • research funding organizations including anti-corruption measures in their terms of reference (Canada);
  • journalists using social media to monitor fraud during final exams (Kosovo);
  • and student organizations checking universities financial management (Peru and the Philippines).
More broadly, referring to the case of Romania, Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, Director, European Research Centre for Anti-Corruption and State-Building, said:

The autonomy of universities and the decentralization of funds, seen as great political gains after 1989, have also generated undesirable effects. Granting autonomy to universities without ensuring that an accountability mechanism is put into place only fed particularism . Pro-integrity policies are difficult because of poor incentives for stakeholders to improve […]. Students frequently seek the degree certificate rather than the education. Reforming the [higher] education system means challenging this status quo”.

Way ahead

Overall, the Policy Forum revealed that corruption in higher education is a worldwide problem . Many of the risks – such as fake diplomas, plagiarism, or financial fraud – exist in a diverse range of countries. As a result, following a final panel bringing together representatives from the Council of Europe, the Agence Universitaire de la Francophonie, and the Open Society Foundations, participants called for the creation of an international coalition on higher education integrity . Such a coalition could pay particular attention to the following issues:
  • including integrity indicators in the diagnosis of higher education systems;
  • making quality assurance mechanisms more prone to integrity problems;
  • establishing inter-regional platforms to share existing tools and approaches, such as anti-plagiarism software;
  • creating compendiums of anti-corruption initiatives experimented by student movements round the globe.
In her concluding remarks, the Director of IIEP, Suzanne Grant Lewis, expressed the willingness of the Institute to follow up on these recommendations.