Tuesday, October 01, 2013

A new old topic, reloaded

by Mihaylo Milovanovitch
Policy Analyst, Non-Member Economies, Directorate for Education

In a recent OECD blog entry for the European Association for International Education, studying in the “good old times” has been likened to a nice air trip. One would purchase a ticket, board a plane and enjoy a flight to a new and better place. On the way one would fly over and see new things, earn miles and acquire a higher status.

The same blog suggests that things are different today as in many of the countries that are in the middle of a “gold rush” to higher education, the academic planes stay grounded. Outdated systems of admission to university, of assessment and financial support bend under the weight of increasing student numbers and diversity and fail to provide the right answers to three key questions: What do students want? Why do they study? Do they study what they want?

Wrong answers to these questions can be detrimental to institutional integrity. If restrictive and/or misleading access policies make students choose whatever field of study they can get in to, how likely is it that they will care for academic rigour and integrity? If access is not a problem, but public support is spread thinly among a large student population and students have to work full time to sustain themselves, at the end of the day how much time and motivation will they have to fight for transparency and participation in the governance of their higher education institutions? If assessment is not transparent and examiners are the sole masters over questions of academic survival and financial support, what are the chances that students will dare to hold their professors accountable for anything?

The story points to an obvious conclusion. If tertiary institutions do not become better at detecting and responding to student needs and aptitudes, their academic integrity may suffer and they could ultimately pay with their (hard earned) reputation.  A possibly less obvious, but equally important point is that success in fighting malpractice in education generally depends not only on setting and enforcing appropriate rules, but also on a sound understanding of the origins of the problem, and on appropriate action to address these origins.

It is encouraging to see that the topic of integrity and corruption in education is having a “comeback”, driven by major players in the field of anti-corruption advocacy and research, such as Transparency International (TI). It is even more encouraging to discover that the discussion has become more nuanced, vocal, sophisticated and convincing than before and that it promotes a more systemic approach. This year’s edition of TI’s Global Corruption Report is devoted to corruption in education. It invests an extra effort to cover all aspects of the problem and to capture and reproduce the global state of affairs in dealing with it from the perspective of practitioners, researchers and stakeholders, including the OECD with its integrity of education systems (INTES) methodology. Let us hope that the readers of the Report will be as enthusiastic about it as its contributors, and that the fight for more integrity in education will become everybody’s responsibility, at last.

Links:
Global Corruption Report
Public Sector Integrity Reviews
Bribery in international business
Photo credit: Closeup of an old book lying on white ground @shutterstock

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