Transparency International’s (TI) latest report reveals that schools corruption is not just a South African problem, but a global one. The Global Corruption Report: Education shows that corruption is rampant in the education sector around the world, in both basic and higher education. Corruption Watch has made schools corruption its focus for 2013, for good reason, and its concerns are backed up by the findings of the 442-page TI report.

“This report bears out much of what we are hearing from stakeholders in our own schools,” commented David Lewis, executive director of Corruption Watch.

“We should not take comfort from the fact that schools corruption is rampant throughout the world, or that we are not the worst hit by schools corruption. Rather we should take note of the alarming incidence of corruption in our own schools and how far we could still fall. If we are not to fall further, the time to act is now,” he said.

The publication analyses risks for corruption in all sectors of education, and poses ways of stopping the rot. It includes more than 70 articles by experts from more than 50 countries, and is divided into five main sections:

  • global trends in corruption in education;
  • understanding the scale of corruption in school education, as experienced by teachers, parents and learners;
  • transparency and integrity in higher education;
  • innovative approaches to tackling corruption in education;
  • the role of education in strengthening personal and professional integrity.

The report includes regional articles from Armenia, Bangladesh, Cameroon, Greece, Kenya, Morocco, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Vanuatu, Vietnam, and more.

It calls on governments, international organisations, businesses and civil society to ensure that good governance is promoted in education policy in all countries.

“It is disturbing that those engaged in corruption often benefit from impunity and, regrettably, whistleblowers have often been hit by retaliation. It is therefore no coincidence that activists fighting against corruption and the abuse of power are also recognised as human rights defenders,” said South Africa’s Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Types of corruption in education

With year-end exams due to start shortly, and the consistently poor performance of local schools generally, despite the billions that are poured into them, South Africans could be forgiven for wondering what proportion of that dismal performance is directly influenced by corruption.

Corruption in schools can take numerous forms, said the report, and Corruption Watch, with an active schools campaign and well over 300 schools reports submitted in total via SMS, online reporting and telephone, has uncovered several in South African schools.

These forms include procurement in construction, shadow schools or ghost teachers, the diversion of resources intended for textbooks and supplies, bribery in access to education and the buying of grades, nepotism in teacher appointments and fake diplomas, misuse of school grants for private gain, absenteeism, and private tutoring in place of formal teaching. The report also categorises sexual exploitation in the classroom as an abuse of entrusted power and, therefore, as an act of corruption.

In higher education, corruption includes the above-mentioned forms, and more: illicit payments in recruitment and admissions, nepotism in tenured postings, bribery in on-campus accommodation and grading, political and  corporate  undue  influence  in  research,  plagiarism,  ghost  authorship  and  editorial misconduct in academic journals. The report also mentions online diploma and accreditation mills.

Why is education vulnerable to corruption?

The TI report found that the risk of corruption in education is enhanced by two main factors: the high stakes of educational opportunity – because education is perceived as a crucial shaper of both individuals and nations, it becomes an attractive target for political manipulation, and extortion by those who provide services – and the large sums allocated to fund both private and public schooling. In most countries, said the TI report, education is the largest or second largest recipient of public funds, and employs the greatest number of public servants.

Education, noted the report, is frequently the sector that has the greatest funds being disbursed to the greatest number of recipients at multiple levels – the risk of corruption is particularly strong when the funds pass through several layers of administration, often with little or no accountability demanded of the people handling the funds. This inadequate monitoring of the movement of public funds makes the education sector particularly prone to corruption.

This ties in with the findings of Corruption Watch’s just-released Mxit survey, which polled over 3 000 respondents on their views of corruption in their schools. The survey found that the misuse of school funds or resources is the most common type of corruption in South African schools, but there is also a growing culture of teachers soliciting favours from learners in return for better marks, or selling exam and test papers.

Corruption in education, stated the TI report, is particularly harmful because it breeds a social acceptance of corruption at an early age. Children, seeing illicit practices in the classroom, unquestioningly accept those practices as the way to get on in life, and they carry that attitude into society.

How to fight schools corruption

The report said that measures such as procurement guidelines, audits, codes of conduct, and transparency and monitoring procedures can foster an attitude of integrity.

Leadership and political will set the tone for the conduct of workers, and strengthen their commitment to fighting corruption. National education ministries, therefore, should set the example by declaring a zero-tolerance approach and viewing corruption as an obstacle to high-quality education and to national development. This should take place with the support of the international community and bodies such as Unesco and the World Bank.

The report also stated that education itself can be an essential tool in fighting corruption, if the role of the school and teachers is placed at the forefront of education policy and anti-corruption efforts. By understanding the teacher’s position as a role model, and viewing the school as a microcosm of society, policy makers can train teachers to teach by example and themselves become above reproach.

A mobilised civil society was named as an important weapon in the anti-corruption fight, as it can bring human rights mechanisms into play and hold governments accountable in this area too.  Citizens have a right to education free of corruption, and they must demand it.

Young people also have a central role to play in fighting corruption, as they can bring a fresh approach to the problem, and can quickly mobilise opinion. “With nearly a fifth of the world’s population between 15 and 24 years old, young people have the potential to stop corruption both as the citizens of today and as the leaders of tomorrow,” said Huguette Labelle, TI chairperson. “Where corruption seems commonplace, promoting integrity among young people is critical to building a better future.”

In terms of whistleblowers, the TI report said that there should be legal protection, internal and external disclosure channels and follow-up mechanisms in place for workers in all levels of the education sector. These policies should also protect the whistleblower from all forms of retaliation and discrimination.

These, and other recommendations, may be viewed in the TI Global Corruption Report: Education.



Transparency International’s latest report shows that schools corruption is not just a South African problem, but a global one. This should not be a comfort, says Corruption Watch’s David Lewis, but rather a warning to act now and prevent the situation from worsening.
File Upload