How to tackle global academic corruption

In my recent edited collection, Corruption in Higher Education: Global challenges and responses, 34 authors – including educators, policy-makers and practitioners from all five continents – reported on various corruption issues in higher education using examples from multiple countries and regions. The main takeaways from the collection are as follows.

Academic corruption is not always visible

Academic dishonesty among students at Eastern European universities is often visible and can be measured. At these universities, there is still a strong tradition of rote learning and the reproduction of knowledge. Therefore, the demand for cheat sheets is high.

Western European universities, however, have different problems, with practices like contract cheating and the outsourcing of writing assignments becoming routine. The scale of this market is difficult to quantify, but there are concerning indications.

For instance, when measures were taken against the providers of these services in the United Kingdom, it triggered a crisis in Kenya, where young, highly qualified graduates lost their jobs in the academic writing industry, which had provided them with a stable and lucrative income.

Academic corruption is ambivalent

For many young scholars, a permanent position in academia is the dream. Studies from Sweden, however, suggest that the hiring process is often just window dressing. Hiring committees almost always know in advance who will get the advertised position and are only pretending to be looking for someone.

Often the chosen candidate already works at the prospective university or belongs to the inner circle of decision-makers and has worked with them on other projects. While it is logical to hire someone who is familiar with the processes at a specific university and human instinct to support friends, this means that newcomers without an established network have few opportunities.

Academic corruption is complex

The complexity of academic corruption makes it difficult to develop and implement remedies and other measures. For example, not all fake universities are created equal, and the term fake university covers several different kinds of entity.

One example of a fake university is Trump University, whose main purpose was to make a profit. It imitated teaching and research to this end. Another example of a fake university is when the authorities in the United States create fake universities as a trap to catch international students who are only pretending to be enrolled.

In India, there is the problem of ‘non-attending students’. Students pay a lot of money for their studies and, therefore, expect to receive a degree. Attending courses and fulfilling other obligations are not necessarily part of the package for these students.

But fake universities and fake degrees can also be more traditional in scope, like selling scam diplomas from real universities or real diplomas from scam universities. The perpetrator of the 2011 terrorist attack in Norway, for example, sold fake diplomas on his website. This brought him a significant amount of money that, in turn, enabled the attack that killed 77 people.

Therefore, the many faces of fake universities are a challenge for policy-makers. Depending on the type of fake university, the necessary solution could be completely different.

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