Stories & Grievances
Corruption in the Education Sector
Corruption in education affects more people than corruption in most other sectors and it affects the development potential of the whole country.
Corruption takes various forms:
Bribes paid by parents to teachers and public officials to get good grades and pass exams
Bribes paid by teachers to public officials to get preferred posting and promotion
Embezzlement of funds allocated to teaching materials or school buildings
Sexual and other exploitation of students by teachers, etc.
There is both grand corruption at political and administrative level, and petty corruption at administrative and school level.
The consequences of corruption in education are dire:
High drop-out rates, especially amongst the poor who cannot afford to pay.
Low quality of teaching and low achievement, leaving whole generations without a future.
Corruption in education cannot be analysed and solved in isolation, preventative measures must be built in reform programmes at various levels:
The regulatory framework should set clear standards and recruitment and career development rules that are based on merit.
Legal standards must be complemented by conflict of interest rules and codes of conduct.
The regulatory framework must enhance accountability and access to information on educational policy and performance, thus allowing for public participation.
There must be clear complaint mechanisms for students and parents, and sanctions for bribery.
Organisational structures must enhance accountability.
Clear lines of responsibility together with simple and transparent decision-making processes can prevent corruption.
Institutions must have the capacity to adequately manage their education system.
Parents, teachers and civil society in general must have a say in education planning and management: Without an active citizenry that demands quality education for their children, reforms will not be sustainable.
Where does corruption occur
Corruption in education occurs at political, administrative (central and local level) and classroom level.
At policy level:
Corruption afflicts the allocation of resources to the education budget, leaving the sector under resourced.
Decision-makers prefer hard investments (procurement, military hardware, large construction projects) instead of soft investments (daily running costs for schools, for instance), because the former is more easily corrupted.
Decision-making can be biased along ethnic lines and can go as far as political blackmail (if you don't vote for me, you don't get the school).
At central ministry level:
Grand corruption involves the diversion of funds associated with procurement, construction, and of the funds intended for allocation to lower levels of the system.
Funds for educational institutions can be siphoned off at the administrative and political level by corrupt administrators, public officials and politicians even before they reach the schools.
At school and administrative level in:
diversion of money and supplies on their way to schools.
educators in the lower system securing opportunities or avoiding punishment through petty bribes.
teacher recruitment and promotion contributing to low quality of public teaching.
bribes paid by parents to ensure access, good grades and graduation.
a bias against pupils on ethnic or gender grounds (i.e. the bypassing of objective student assessment criteria). This also constitutes an abuse of power, i.e. an act of corruption.
In the late 1990s, it was reported from the Philippines that despite significant public expenditures on textbooks, only 16% of children actually received them. Education supplies were lost to payoffs, under-deliveries, and overpricing.
School planning & management: Establishment | Procurement | Accreditation
Students: Admission | Private tutoring | Examination
Teachers: Teacher administration | Misconduct
Planning and school management:
Approval of school establishment
Decisions concerning where to build new schools or which schools should receive government subsidies can be influenced outside of the formal decision-making organs. Schools may be built in areas where they are not needed, bypassing school mapping criteria. Projects may be selected for personal and political interests rather than educational needs.
Corruption in procurement occurs in the provision of educational material (curriculum development, textbooks, library, uniforms, etc), of meals and of building, facilities and equipment. Profits are usually high - in school construction and in the design and manufacturing of text books because sales levels are guaranteed - thus the propensity of bidders to pay bribes.
Textbooks and supplies often remain under monopolies of the state without transparent bidding procedures. Designers are frequently chosen on the basis of unprofessional specifications and through personal connections. As a consequence, textbooks may be of poor quality.
In 2001, twenty five million secondary level schoolchildren in Bangladesh started the school year without textbooks. When the textbooks were finally delivered, they were full of errors - yet, they had to be purchased by pupils at a higher price than previously announced. A report card survey carried out by Transparency International Bangladesh revealed that students had to pay an additional Tk 670 million (approximately US$ 12 million) due to the textbook crisis.(TI Bangladesh)
The post-cold-war period has seen a blossoming of private teaching institutions and a flowering of new degree programmes. These institutions and degrees need to be recognised through a system of accreditation that is traditionally managed within government ministries. Corruption may occur in the licensing and allocation of subsidies to both private and public institutions. Schools and institutes may bribe their way into getting the necessary authorisation for giving classes and exams, and there are many instances of corrupt accreditation of schools. These corrupt practices place the nation at risk because institutions of low quality may be licensing students with poor professional standards.
Student admission and examination
Entrance tests are privately sold to high-paying candidates before the tests are administered. Oral examinations are even more open to corruption since they are more subjective and difficult to monitor. As salaries decline in value, and educational institutions require alternative sources of income, bribery surrounding the admissions process as well as the process of examination and graduation can become a matter of routine. Candidates may even know how much a "pass" will cost and be expected to bring the cash ahead of time. Other forms include selling information (e.g. exam papers ahead of examinations), favouritism and nepotism.
Poor high schools also produce students who leave poorly prepared for college. Therefore, parents must hire private tutors to ensure that their children pass the entrance exams. The catch is that the most popular tutors are professors who also sit on the committees that decide who is admitted to college, and who is refused. The examinations are oral. Grading criteria are wholly subjective. The "tutoring fees" wind up being de facto bribes. (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2002)
"Free" primary education is often not free in reality for poor families. Engaging teachers as private tutors may be necessary to pass exams.
Private tutoring can exacerbate social inequalities. This is particularly problematic where mainstream teachers provide paid supplementary tutoring for their own mainstream pupils after school hours. In the worst cases, a form of blackmail arises in which the teachers teach only half the curriculum during the school day and then require their pupils to pay for the other half during private lessons.
Public school teachers in Pakistan demand payment for each child in the form of "tuition". If parents do not meet these payments the teachers were reported to beat the student or submit a failing grade for him or her. (The World Bank's Voices of the Poor survey)
The examination system is central to institutions that are based on meritocracy, and its fairness is crucial to ensure quality outcomes in education. Again, reality often contrasts with this, for example it is reported from India that cheating is so well established that when universities try to crack down, students protest and demand their traditional "right" to cheat. Examination proctors are sometimes beaten or even killed by students for conscientiously doing their jobs. In some places, professors or administrators collude with students by selling them examination papers in advance or by "fixing" the results. In others, students manage to steal examinations and sell them in advance to others.
In Georgia, professors are reported to hand out price lists for passing exams. A student can practically buy his or her way through the institution, paying for every exam and, ultimately, a diploma. Moreover, students can bypass the higher education system altogether by simply buying a diploma from an established university.
Teacher management and professional conduct
The recruitment process may bypass criteria and lead to employment of unqualified personnel. Teachers may be allocated to schools were they are not needed while other schools may lack teachers. Placements in rural schools are frequently unpopular, especially amongst unmarried and female teachers, and may be avoided through bribes to public officials. Salaries may be paid to ghost teachers. As in school management in general, abundance of rules and regulations often aggravates the problems.
In pre-civil war Liberia, the process of replacing teachers who had died or left teaching was highly complex and corrupt. New teachers needed 29 official signatures to get on the payroll . As a remedy, "headmasters were allowed to appoint temporary substitutes who could cash the pay checks of the teachers they replaced. Principals quickly realised that they could cash these pay checks and keep the money, without bothering to appoint a replacement teacher. This eventually led to a high incidence of "ghost teachers". When district and central officials realised what was happening, instead of trying to eliminate the practice, they demanded a cut of the proceeds.(Chapman)
The teacher promotion process may be corrupt. Candidates may bribe or otherwise sway promotion committees. In universities with a rigid academic hierarchy, senior academics often promote their friends or perhaps colleagues irrespective of the qualifications of the candidate.
Corruption also occurs in loan and scholarship schemes for higher education.
Motivated and effective teachers are a prerequisite for quality teaching. People in developing countries often complain of absent or abusive teachers and demands for illegal fees to get their children into school or to influence examination results. Teachers may use tuition and school fees for private profit, and accept favours for normal services. Teachers may exploit their students as unpaid labour, at home or on their land. In many places teachers show up drunk, are physically abusive, or simply do nothing. Sexual harassment by teachers is frequent in many countries.
A study of sexual violence in Botswana (2001) revealed that 67% of girls reported sexual harassment by teachers. 11% of the girls surveyed seriously considered dropping out of school due to harassment (despite the fact that Botswana provides 10 years of free education) and 10% consented to sexual relations for fear of reprisals on grades and performance records.
Teacher absenteeism is a serious and widespread problem in many countries. A survey of thousands of primary schools carried out by the World Bank in 2002-3 in seven developing countries found that teacher absence ranged from 13% (in Peru) to 58% (in Indian states Assam and Bihar). In addition, many of those that were present at school were not teaching.
Another corrupt practice of teachers involves educational materials: Professors may require students to buy their books and lack of compliance may result in failing an exam. They may also adopt an inadequate textbook or educational materials because of a manufacturer's gift.
Finally, the utilisation of school property for private commercial purposes also constitutes an act of corruption.
Causes of corruption
Inadequate salaries and irregular or delayed payment often force teachers to look for ways to supplement their income. As Voices of the Poor reports from Moldova, teachers have left their position in large numbers because they cannot survive on their salary alone. Those who remain supplement their income by extensive subsistence gardening or work several shifts. In villages, teachers accept parent payments in food or labour, they sell textbooks or buy manuals from printing houses and resell them to pupils.
In higher education, shortage of funds puts universities under great pressure to admit students. Institutions that experience "permanent poverty" in societies that offer few options for the highly educated, are more exposed to the lures of academic corruption.
There are strong links between social corruption and corruption in academia. Corruption is an element of social and economic life in many countries. Societies that do not have well-developed norms based on meritocracy are often prone to academic corruption: the idea that someone can be promoted or can receive an academic degree because he or she is from a particular group or has certain familial links is seen as acceptable.
Lack of infrastructure
Poor conditions of roads, railways and telephones sometimes make it impossible for inspectors to visit schools. As a consequence, teachers' misconduct can go without sanction and other corrupt practices, e.g. embezzlement of funds allocated for school materials, are not exposed.
Lack of transparent regulation and criteria
Without clear standards and laws, the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour becomes blurred. Inadequate accreditation mechanisms for schools and higher education institutions further exacerbate the problem, especially in a context of declining public expenditure.
Inadequate organisational structures
Absence of incentives for improved performance and for control mechanisms and sanctions, may lead to corruption. In many transition countries, authoritarian and centralised systems do not create opportunities for professional growth. Lack of supervision and sanctions as well as inadequate management make it easy for teachers to misuse their professional positions.
Lack of community involvement facilitates corruption
If parents are not involved in establishing, overseeing and supporting a school, they may see it as something alien. Without a sense of ownership, parents are not likely to hold teachers and administrators accountable. If communities do not know what to expect from the school (in terms of educational outcomes), if they are not informed and are discouraged from getting involved, they may not claim their children's right to education.
What can be done?
A more accountable education system has to be built as part of an overall accountable civil service. Effective accountability systems can only prevail in a context of laws promoting transparency, free press and citizen participation. Methods for achieving more accountability include:
clear sanctions for bribery
rules for conflict of interest
codes of conduct
political independence of education administrations
recruitment and career development rules based on merit
access to information
complaint mechanisms for students and parents.
Organisational structure and administrative procedures must build on principles of accountability and transparency.
Rules and procedures associated with managing the education system must be clearly stated.
Clear criteria must be set for the process of selection, admission, examination and promotion.
There must be mechanisms for monitoring compliance, and consequences for non-compliance.
Examination and accreditation agencies should be autonomous.
Adjudication should be done by independent school and professional boards.
Donors should only provide funds for education if the administration has the capacity to effectively absorb the funds.
Decentralisation is often considered as a means to improve accountability and governance in education, making monitoring easier for local communities. However, this has not been confirmed by empirical studies - some argue decentralisation leads to more opportunities for corruption.
An Education Management Information System (EMIS) is used as management tool for performance monitoring and quality enhancement in many countries. Its overall purpose is to provide better accountability for public spending, better policy understanding of school programmes and accomplishments, and to help improve the local education system. It supports and improves education by providing the information on the needs of the school districts and about student performance and participation.
Clear codes of conduct for teachers are needed to establish standards for professional ethics that are not covered under the law. Educators need to know what behaviour might constitute corrupt practice, especially when proper professional conduct might run counter to social norms widely accepted outside of the education workplace. A code, for example, sets limits on accepting gifts in return for professional actions, even though gift giving may be considered appropriate in other settings. However, codes can only be effective if they are made public. There has to be clear consistent enforcement, and strong top level (including government) support. An important model code is the "Declaration of Professional Ethics" developed by the World Union of Teacher Associations "Education International", in 2001.
Enforcement through sanctions of teachers' and administrators' misconduct is necessary for the credibility of regulation. Some forms of misconduct, e.g. theft or misuse of public property, constitute a criminal offence and have to be judged by the criminal court system.
Public feedback, organised through civil society, can be a powerful tool to make social services more responsive and accountable. TI Bangladesh uses "report cards" to draw attention to perceived problems in the delivery of services. Report cards are handed out to users of public services and afterwards collected. They are analysed and the results made available to "Committees of Concerned Citizens", who subsequently exert pressure for change on the basis of empirical evidence.
The World Bank piloted a report card in Philippines to seek feedback on selected government services, one of which was elementary education. Through the survey citizens got to speak out on the quality and affordability of education, and revealed their awareness of, and access to, education.
Participation allows parents and students to build ownership and to hold teachers and administrators accountable. Community involvement was found to improve school performance in El Salvador's EDUCO programme and to dramatically increase enrolment in primary schools, despite poor conditions in which they work. Parent-teacher associations or community groups can play an important role. Student participation and confidence can be built through the installation of counselling and complaint channels, through placing suggestion boxes in schools and establishing anti-corruption committees.
A prerequisite of participation is access to information: The public should have access to financial and statistical data on transfer of funds to the schools, on allocation of positions, of goods such as textbooks and stationary, transfers for school meals, etc. These data need to be both timely and accurate.
There should be transparent procurement procedures and enhanced accountability of public spending. Budget transparency will enhance accountability of education spending and enable the public to monitor expenditure and compare actual expenditure at school level with policy statements.
It goes without saying that national leadership at the highest level is a prerequisite for the success of any structural and management reform. Without the support of politicians and high level officials, the education system is unlikely to function in an honest and non-corrupt way.
Finally, corruption in very poor countries will not be cut unless the underlying economic situation has been improved. The government has to be able to ensure adequate teacher salaries, and adequate resources in the education sector.
Utstein Anti-Corruption Resource Centre Resources, Theme Pages, Links
UNICORN: A Global Unions Anti-corruption Network