By Kotie Geldenhuys
A topic that is seldom under discussion in higher education and academic circles is academic corruption and fraud. The reason might simply be because it is believed that higher education institutions are inspired with integrity as they often create life-improving and even life-saving knowledge to their students. Shockingly, corruption and fraud in higher education institutions are widespread and a global problem.
Corruption and fraud in higher education are problematic across the globe and range from political capture of universities to favouritism in admissions, diversion of funds, academic dishonesty and sextortion. There is also falsification of research data, corruption in licensing and accreditation, corruption in staff recruitment and promotions as well as financial mismanagement and procurement fraud (Kirya, 2019). (The latter will not be dealt with in this article.) Prof Damtew Teferra from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) is of the opinion that there are many forms of academic misconduct which include plagiarism, nepotism, corrupt recruitment and admission, cheating in exams, misrepresentation and falsifying of records, biased grading, bribery as well as conspiracy and collusion (Teferra, 2018).
It is important to distinguish between fraud and corruption in higher education. Fraud refers to the unlawful and intentional making of a misrepresentation that causes actual or potential prejudice to another. Corruption refers to any person who gives or accepts or offers to give or accept any gratification amounting to an unauthorised or improper inducement to act or not to act in a particular manner. A student who cheats during an exam or who buys a fake diploma online, for example, without the collusion of a public official, would be guilty of fraud and not of corruption (Kirya, 2019). In this article we will look at a range of corrupt and fraudulent practices.
Through the years, academic misconduct has mushroomed to the extent that it threatens the foundation of the academic arena and society at large. Liz Reisberg, a researcher at the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College in the USA, writes in the book Corruption in Higher Education: Global challenges and responses that “academic corruption undermines the ability of universities to create high quality human resources, and the ability of societies to trust the integrity of higher education outputs. Universities globally must proactively cultivate honest and ethical practices, and awareness of risks to the academic enterprise and society when such values are subverted” (MacGregor, 2020). Adv Monica Kirya, an advocate of the High Court of Uganda and member of the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre in Norway, added that “corruption and fraud ruin the reputations of universities, blocks access for applicants who do meet the requirements and waste money spent on students who are not capable” (Kirya, 2019). The dangers of unleashing a dubious graduate who presumes to have honestly qualified as a medical doctor, pilot, engineer or accountant are obvious (Teferra, 2018).
Admission fraud in higher education is a common phenomenon across the world. There are only two ways to get into a top university. The first, and correct way, is through the “front door” which requires academic achievements and extracurricular activities. The other is through the “back door” which involves the right connections, massive donations, bribery, fraud and corruption. Adv Kirya explains that fraud and corruption can taint selection and admission to a university. “Bribery can earn a pass mark on entrance examinations, or test material may be leaked in advance to give some students an unfair advantage. A bribe can even secure admission for a wholly unqualified student,” she said (Kirya, 2019).