Can you put a price tag on a quality education?
Unfortunately, at some universities, you can. And these corrupt practices can harm the quality of students’ education, the reputation of a country’s institutions of higher learning, and the preparedness of a nation’s workforce.
In a corrupt educational system, teachers and administrators may accept bribes for grades and diplomas. Nepotism can lead to the hiring of unqualified teachers and administrators. Corrupt procurement contracts may result in the purchase of low-quality materials or inferior construction of campus facilities. Cheating and plagiarism are common.
“Corruption diminishes the quality of education,” says EDC’s Gustavo Payan. “Students graduate with diplomas that don’t reflect their actual skills, teachers do not make an effort to teach because they are getting bribes, and bribes for admissions keep deserving students from attending school.”
Many nations in Eastern Europe and Eurasia, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Macedonia, have struggled with corruption in their educational systems and institutions as they have made the transition from communism to free markets. Through an initiative of the Eastern Europe and Eurasia Social Legacy Program (SLP), EDC seeks to raise awareness in these three countries of the negative effects corruption has on higher education and to build local capacity to create codes of conduct for students, teachers, and school officials.
The program focuses on higher education institutions in these countries where, for example, bribes are commonly accepted in exchange for diplomas and grades. In this sense, the program aims to raise awareness among students regarding the consequences of engaging in corrupt behaviors. For example, employers may avoid hiring graduates from certain schools because they fear that students have not acquired the skills indicated by their degrees.
“Students that engage in these practices are not thinking about whether their university has a good reputation and how this will affect their lives when they graduate and are looking for a job,” says EDC’s Nalini Chugani. “They are not getting the skills they should have; for example, a student may finish medical school without the skills necessary to practice medicine. This has a cost to society.”
Under the SLP, EDC and local partners have formed the Transparent Education Network (TEN) to bring together key individuals and organizations from the Europe and Eurasia region to examine and address the issues related to corruption in education. EDC is working with local youth-serving organizations in each of the three countries: NGO Center (NGOC) in Armenia, YUVA Humanitarian Center (YUVA) in Azerbaijan, and Youth Educational Forum (YEF) in Macedonia. Organizations from Ukraine are also involved in the TEN, separately conducting efforts through an initiative run by the local U.S. Embassy.
EDC works with NGOC, YUVA, and YEF to engage a core group of university-age youth and key university staff in implementing activities designed to raise awareness of corruption. YEF hosted a contest for youth to create videos about corruption that were broadcast at the National Gallery in Macedonia and posted on YouTube. YUVA held numerous seminars on corruption and a competition to create the best cartoon on the subject. NGOC sponsored town hall-style meetings featuring youth and university staff from various higher education institutions and held a call for posters for a nationwide campaign.
“This project raises awareness in ways that go beyond the typical anti-corruption campaigns,” says Payan. “Activities are designed to guide youth in thinking through and understanding these issues, as well as to build local capacity to address them with an emphasis on regional networking.”
Through TEN, EDC is finding different ways to bring members together and enable them to share resources and findings. For example, Facebook was used to announce some of the competitions in Macedonia and to conduct a survey of youth in Azerbaijan concerning their perceptions of corruption. Additionally, a TEN Roundtable is scheduled to take place in Macedonia this fall to bring network members and international experts together to strengthen the network and share best practices.
In all three countries, codes of conduct will be written for one or two higher education institutions in collaboration with students, teachers, school administrators, and experts in the field. In Azerbaijan, for example, YUVA will be working with student associations at universities in the capital city of Baku to develop codes of conduct and establish a student ombudsman office. This office will be able to help answer questions that students and faculty members may have about corruption and codes of conduct.
Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development as part of Educational Quality Improvement Program 3 (EQUIP3), SLP reaches out to youth and other vulnerable groups in the Europe and Eurasia region, giving them the tools to become local leaders and promote social change. Other SLP initiatives currently underway involve workforce development in Kosovo and Montenegro and social services for vulnerable/disabled groups in Armenia and Georgia.
Originally published on October 27, 2009