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Corruption in universities: Paths to integrity in the higher education subsector

Corruption and fraud in higher education is a global scourge that hinders human capital formation, especially in developing countries. It ranges from political capture of universities to favouritism in admissions, diversion of funds, academic dishonesty and sextortion. Higher education regulatory frameworks should promote accountability and anti-corruption measures as part of accreditation and assessment standards. Donors can use their assistance to bolster anti-corruption compliance in the universities they partner with, strengthen accreditation agencies, and support information technology solutions.

1 September 2019
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Corruption in universities: Paths to integrity in the higher education subsector

Main points

  • Corruption in higher education is growing global problem with grave implications for societies. Universities in developing countries face unique challenges arising from the recent liberalisation and subsequent rapid expansion of the subsector.
  • Corruption in higher education takes various forms. Political manipulation of university affairs is common, as governments and ruling parties often interfere in the running of institutions. Higher educational institutions can be captured by political patronage networks for political or financial gain. Unearned credentials may be granted to politicians, their kin, and cronies.
  • Other types of corruption include favouritism and nepotism in student admissions and staff appointments, corruption in licensing and accreditation, diversion of university or research funds, and procurement fraud.
  • Academic dishonesty – plagiarism, essay mills, false research, examination fraud, and fake degrees – is rampant in both developed and developing countries.
  • Sexual exploitation, mainly of female students, faculty, and staff by males, is a serious problem in higher education. Sextortion is defined as a form of corruption in which sex is the currency of the bribe.
  • Various organisations are making efforts to tackle corruption in higher education. Governments, universities and other tertiary institutions, as well as civil society all have important roles to play.
  • Donors should use international development assistance to strengthen anti-corruption compliance in the universities they partner with for scholarships and research grants; strengthen accreditation agencies; and support information technology solutions, such as anti-plagiarism software and fraud-proof degree certificates. Beneficiaries of international scholarships should be equipped to spread academic integrity norms in their home countries.

Cite this publication

Kirya, M.; (2019) Corruption in universities: Paths to integrity in the higher education subsector. Bergen: U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Chr. Michelsen Institute (U4 Issue 2019:10)

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About the author

Monica Kirya is a lawyer and Principal Adviser at the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre. She coordinates the themes on mainstreaming anti-corruption in public service delivery and integrating gender in anti-corruption programming.


All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)