Blog post

Eradicating favouritism in higher education: lessons learned from Türkiye

Özgür Çelik

Lecturer at Balıkesir University in Türkiye, and researcher on academic integrity issues.

Two students walking through a university building

Favouritism is an acute issue that poses a substantial risk to competency or merit-based recruitment processes. Essentially, favouritism involves conferring an unjust benefit or advantage to specific individuals. It is a form of corruption which can impact not only the institutions concerned, but also, ultimately, wider society.

The consequences of such practices manifest in the short-, mid-, and long-term. Immediate effects can be seen in the higher education work force and can include a reduction in job satisfaction, motivation, and commitment among employees, and a loss of trust in leadership. The situation becomes increasingly dire in the mid-term, with the institution suffering from increasingly negative public opinion, diminished organizational performance, obstacles to sustainable growth, managerial difficulties and, again, loss of trust and reputation. Looking at the long-term implications, favouritism tends to foster corruption, leading society to develop a high tolerance towards unethical conduct, and could cause a decrease in society's faith in universities.

Thus, it becomes clear that favouritism's corrosive consequences are multiplicative and multilayered. Evidently, the aftermath of favouritism is far-reaching and persistent, calling for urgent attention and intervention at multiple levels.

Uncovering favouritism in the Turkish higher education sector

While favouritism is a global issue, the way that it manifests in the universities of developing nations like Türkiye is noteworthy and alarming. In the context of Turkish higher education, the phenomenon of favouritism has persistently existed within campuses without proper scrutiny, concealed under multiple layers of systemic shortcomings and a lack of an academic integrity culture. Spanning over a decade, the Turkish media had unmasked several overt cases of favouritism within academia, triggering a surge in public backlash. The increasing media spotlight and subsequent public outcry against favouritism in recent years have exposed the harsh realities of the practice within universities. This systemic favouritism in recruitment procedures negatively impacts the university climate, education quality, and research productivity.

In response to growing public concern over favouritism in Turkish higher education, the Council of Higher Education (CoHE) took action to address the issue. Firstly, CoHE published a declaration expressing their concern, and updated the "Regulation on Promotion and Recruitment of Faculty Members" by adding a new article which prohibits the inclusion of a candidate's postgraduate thesis topic or any conditions that favour a particular candidate in a recruitment announcement. As a result of CoHE's efforts, some announcements were retracted, and the Court cancelled several recruitments.

However, CoHE's actions have not completely eliminated the issue. Despite the retraction of some announcements, job postings that favour a particular candidate continued to appear in Turkish higher education. Only those that received official complaints were retracted, while others remained unaffected. Although CoHE deserves praise for its proactive approach, it is crucial that Turkish higher education institutions play a leading role in not only reacting to, but also foreseeing and stopping favouritism. By implementing strong institutional policies and fostering a culture of academic integrity, it is hoped that such practices can gradually be eliminated, leading to a fairer and more merit-based system for recruitment and advancement within the Turkish academic community.

Eliminating favouritism: a global approach

The situation in Türkiye highlights the importance of three key factors in fighting corruption: public dissatisfaction, media coverage, and institutional action. Initially, individuals became frustrated with unfair practices, which were then brought to light through social and traditional media. Institutions then responded with measures to address these issues. Although this process can lead to some solutions, it may not always result in sustainable change. In the Turkish case for example, complaints that are not officially reported are often ignored. It is therefore imperative that higher education institutions take a strong stance against favouritism in all its forms. Any hint of bias in the selection process must be immediately addressed and eliminated.

Public dissatisfaction, media coverage, and institutional action can facilitate the creation of conditions for a culture of transparency and accountability that leaves no room for corrupt practices to take hold. However, institutions must also implement comprehensive internal and external quality assurance systems designed to root out any instances of corruption and ensure that every candidate is evaluated solely on their merits. By upholding the highest ethical standards, we can ensure that higher education institutions remain places of learning and growth for all.

Looking ahead

While progress has been made in addressing favouritism in higher education, more must be done to fully eliminate this damaging practice. The fact remains that preferential treatment for certain individuals undermines the very foundations of academic institutions and creates an unfair advantage that can have long-lasting implications for society. To combat this issue, it is imperative that academic institutions take a proactive approach by implementing strict policies and procedures that promote transparency and accountability. Additionally, it is essential that academic leaders work to create a culture of fairness and equality, one that values and rewards merit-based achievements over personal connections.

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