Blog post

The Kyrgyz Republic and bribes in the classroom: increase wages and oversight, decrease corruption

Thomas J. Bussen

Assistant Professor of Law & Business, American University of Central Asia (AUCA)

Corruption in the classrooms of the Kyrgyz Republic is widespread, common, and open. It takes place in primary schools, up to and through the university levels.1 The result is a diminished quality of education for the students of this small, former Soviet nation, and a normalizing of bribery among young people.

The behavior at issue typically occurs when students pay teachers in return for a higher grade. There are two primary, interlinked, reasons for the widespread occurrence of teachers’ bribe-taking: a lack of compensation, and a lack of
oversight [1].

The average university worker earns approximately $140 per month in the Kyrgyz Republic[2]. The minimum consumption level per person in the country is approximately $76 per month[3]. For many teachers supporting a family, they must, therefore, by simple necessity, accept bribes.

There is, meanwhile, a virtually infinitesimally small chance that a teacher will be caught, and if caught, punished, for accepting a bribe.  The sheer openness of the transaction – often arranged by a student on behalf of the entire class – is a tribute to this fact.

A three-tier wage model exposes the interaction between wages and bribe-taking [4]. The lowest tier is a “Capitulation Wage” in which the worker's wages are lower than that available if he or she were to seek employment elsewhere. The middle tier is a “Reservation Wage” in which wages are equal to the best alternative employment. The top tier is an “Efficiency Wage” in which wages are higher than the best alternative employment.

In the Kyrgyz Republic, the official wage for most education sector workers amounts to a Capitulation Wage[5].  Although most teachers could officially earn more doing another job, many rely on bribes to increase their overall wage to a level equivalent to a Reservation Wage.

So how is bribery affected if official wages are increased?  And how high need wages go to have an effect?

The Fair Wage Model tells us that some teachers would no longer engage in bribery once wages equal or exceed a livable wage [6]. The reason is simple: these teachers desire to act honestly, and once they have the financial means to do so, they will.

The second group is more calculating; they are our Shirking Model Actors [7]. These teachers consider the risk of detection, the likelihood of punishment, and the severity of punishment for bribe-taking [8]. If those risks are less than the expected pay-off, then they will engage in corruption.  Every time.  No matter how high their wages may rise.  The only way to deter this group from bribe-taking is to change the calculation: that is, to make bribe-taking riskier [9].

Imagine, however, that official wages remain at Capitulation levels but increased oversight limits the ability to take bribes.  Shirking Model Actors would have no financial incentive to remain at their positions; an exodus from schools would likely follow.  If, however, the official wage is made to equal or exceed the Reservation Wage, then teachers would have an incentive to remain in the jobs even if increased oversight eliminated or reduced illicit payments. Therefore, the risk that policing corrupt behavior will drive teachers away from the profession is bypassed by implementing Reservation Wages.

The private American University of Central Asia (hereinafter "AUCA") shows that this combination of higher wages and higher risk for bribe-taking can lower bribe-taking.  AUCA pairs above-average wages with sanctions which include firing professors and expelling students for bribery [10].  Not surprisingly, only 5.1 percent of AUCA students reported that their university was "bribable", compared to fifty percent to seventy percent of public university students in the country [11]. Anecdotal evidence suggests classroom bribery is virtually nonexistent.

Along with teachers, the Kyrgyz public also needs to see a higher wage paid to teachers before it will support this increased oversight: currently, only 19.2% of citizens favor sanctions against corrupt actors [12].  Given that the Kyrgyz public has a nearly universal distaste for corruption, [13] the low wages may partly explain this attitude.  When wages are too low to live on – as is the case for many teachers - there is no moral culpability for accepting illicit payments.  Where there is no moral culpability, society, in turn, is unlikely to demand legal accountability [14].  Once wages are perceived as fair, however, the public is less likely to take an accommodating attitude.

Compensation should therefore be equal to or greater than a wage minimally sufficient to support an average family, and equal to or greater than the Reservation Wage (whichever is higher).  This achieves three objectives: first, a livable wage allows our Fair Wage Model actors to discontinue their corrupt activities; second, the increased wages generate support – from educational workers, students and the public – to incorporate greater oversight into schools; and third, Reservation Wages prevent an exodus of Shirker Model actors once that oversight is implemented.

Without both compensation and oversight, reforms will fall flat and classroom corruption will continue.

[1] The World Bank found that 44.6 percent paid bribes of 500-1000 Kyrgyz Soms (about $7.00-$14.00) to get "help" on an exam in the last three years.  See, The World Bank, Ministry of Economics, Коррупция В Кыргызстане: Масштабы причины и возможности снижения (2014).  In a study by Transparency International, 47 percent of those who came into contact with the educational institution admitted to paying a bribe during a 12 month period. See, Transparency Int’l, Global Corruption Barometer (2013). 

[2] National Statistical Committee (NSC) of the Kyrgyz Republic, Wages (2016),(though this statistic apparently includes all workers, not just teachers, anecdotal evidence suggests that a similar average salary is paid to university teachers).

[3] NSC Kyrgyzstan, supra note 2.

[4] Caroline Van Rijckeghem & Beatrice Weder, Bureaucratic Corruption and the Rate of Temptation: Do Wages in the Civil Service Affect Corruption, and by How Much?, 65  J. OF DEV. ECON., 307, 310 (2001).

[5] In Kyrgyzstan, the average wage across all sectors is about fifty percent higher than wages for education sector workers. Only the agricultural sector earns less on average than the educational sector. The sector most comparable for professors may be the "Professional, scientific and technical" sector.  Workers in this sector earn on average nearly twice the wages of university workers. See NSC Kyrgyzstan, supra note 2.

[6] Rijckeghem & Weder, supra note 4 at 309.

[7] Rijckegem and Weder find evidence that some actors conform to the Shirking Model, while others conform to the Fair Wage Model. Id. at 322.

[8] Id. 308.

[9] See Odd-Helge Fjeldstad, Fighting Fiscal Corruption: Lessons from the Tanzania Revenue Authority, 23 PUBLIC ADMIN. DEV. 165, 171 (2003) (reporting the initial effectiveness of an 18 percent increase in Tanzanian customs officials' salaries, even where a single bribe could be worth a year's salary.  However, the reduction in corruption failed to hold due to inadequate likelihood of detection, risk of punishment and penalty).

[10] S.P. Heyneman & A.J. DeYoung, in THE CHALLENGE OF EDUCATION IN CENTRAL ASIA at 8 (2004).

[11] Stephen Heyneman, Kathryn H. Anderson & Nazym Nuraliyeva, The Cost of Corruption in Higher Education, 52 COMPARATIVE EDUC. REV. 1, 8 (2007).

[12] The World Bank, supra note 1.

[13] Transparency Int’l. supra note 1.

[14] Rijckeghem & Weder, supra note 4 at 308.

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