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Sunday, 7 February 2016

How to Stop Corruption at Universities


Speech at the opening of the Postgraduate Certificate Program on Student-Centred Teaching at the Papua New Guinea University of Technology on Wednesday 10 February 2016, 4  pm.


Why is the Papua New Guinea University of Technology offering a course for all its staff on student centred teaching? Possible answers are, because of accreditation requirements, because of our vision to become a student-centred university producing highly employable graduates, because of the specific characteristics of our special students, or because we constantly need to update our knowledge in order to stay relevant in society?

Let me tell you how I feel about it.  I belief that only by focusing exclusively on excellence in teaching and research, universities can be leading institutions towards building a knowledge-based society. This course will help us focus again on our fundamental principles in teaching, propel us towards excellent and best-practice, and assist us in developing a common understanding and approach to effective teaching.

However, more effective teaching and better learning will only occur only if all forms of corruption at the university are rooted out.

When I started teaching environmental economics and policy in 1994 at universities in Costa Rica, the class debate on issues regarding environmental policy, always led to a discussion about corruption. I was very surprised about this, until I realized that for my students it was not their university degree or talent that guaranteed a professional career, but rather the depths of their parents or their sponsors' pockets in buying their way into a state organization or enterprise. This is disheartening for young people, and does not stimulate them to get a real education. This experience strengthened my resolve to lead a university and re-focus it on its mission of striving for excellence in teaching and research.

Corruption: measurement and drivers

Due to its secretive nature corruption itself is hard to measure, but the perception of corruption can be measured through surveys. In Papua New Guinea, the perception of corruption is very high. In fact, in the latest ranking by Transparency International is it the 25th most corrupt country among 168 listed countries. We have a phenomenon of economic growth without development, as defined as in improvement in health and education outcomes. Papua New Guinea is on of the few countries that in 2015 had not achieved a single millenium development goal in education and health. The main cause of this is corruption.

As a result of wide spread corruption, the profits of 10 years of economic growth have been wasted, and if nothing happens the next 10 years will be wasted as well. We can not cross the sea by standing on the shore and looking at the horizon. We must do something about it.

When we ask Mr. Google to analyze the frequency of the word “corruption” in all the books it has scanned we find the following graph:

Frequency of the word "corruption" in English in Google books
This seems to indicate that since the 1990s the issue of corruption has become of more public concern. Possibly, the role of IT and the media have helped uncover a phenomenon that was previously hard to detect. Globalization, higher literacy, better education, and stronger democratization of society have possibly helped to raise awareness about corruption.
The word “corruption” comes from Latin, and was first used in Italian "corruzione" to indicate political corruption.

Corruption is simply the it is the use of public office for private gain.There are four pillars or drivers of corruption:
  1. the corruptors (bribe supply) 
  2. the corrupted (bribe demand) 
  3. impunity (the legal system) 
  4. tolerance (morality) 
The first two pillars see corruption as a market, where demand meets supply. A market is a very resilient institution, and supply is bound to meet demand. Some have even argued that a low level of corruption is like oil in the machinery of the state. Regrettably, experience shows that a low level of corruption quickly escalates to a higher level, if impunity and tolerance exists. Tolerance is by fare the hardest to root out, but when impunity stops slowly tolerance will decrease.

Corruption at Universities

At universities, generally speaking the are five types of corruption, in:
  1. governance
  2. access
  3. operations
  4. teaching, and 
  5. research.
Corruption in governance occurs when governments mistakenly believe that they can ignore university autonomy and treat universities as if they were other government departments. Corruption spreads from the top, and then impacts all levels of the organization. It becomes widespread quickly, and leads to the gradual decline in the capacity of public institutions to deliver the services they are supposed to.

When the government can appoint or approve the appointment of the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor or Professors, the university system will slowly crumbles, because it is mostly not the most deserving candidate who is appointed. In industrialised countries, there are only two countries where the government appoints the university Chancellor or Vice-Chancellor, Sweden and the Netherlands respectively. Both countries, however, have stable democracies, and a low level of politicisation of public institutions.

The erosion of university autonomy, which inevitably leads to restrictions on academic freedom is wide-spread problem in Latin-America, Africa and Asia. The president of India, Dr. Mukherjee, for example, has remarked that India can never become a world power when it has not a single university in the top 200. The only Indian universities which appear in the ranking are those that have a significant degree of autonomy.

At our University the appointment of a the legitimate Chancellor Sir Nagora Bogan in November 2012, and subsequently his leadership in appointing a new Council in April 2014 has done much to stem corruption in governance.

Corruption in university access regrettably is wide spread. At some universities, children of Faculty or staff members are selected while their results are insufficient. Nepotism or tribalism (called "wantokism" in Papua New Guinea) is still widely tolerated, for example, but is really a blatant form corruption. It is ironic that through this type of corruption the middle and upper classes, who least need access to low-cost public universities, gain a disproportionate access. Scholarships are given to the undeserving rather than those with talent and merit. In those cases, public universities contribute to the continuation of a particular ruling class, rather than a way for talent to develop. Public universities become a way of channeling subsidies to the rich, or political clients. The poor have no choice but to go to private universities, and often pay more although through more clever payment mechanisms or loan schemes.

It is easy to counteract this by reforming the scholarship system. In Europe, for example, after the war most university systems would give full scholarships to those with merit. Regrettably, many countries are going the other ways towards a system were parents and sponsors (often politicians) carry an increasing part of the costs of higher education. The rhetorical argument that public education has private benefits has led to nothing but disaster. In those systems, the costs of higher education spiraling out of control (e.g. Australia, United Kingdom) or student debt becoming unmanageable (e.g. United States of America). Better examples are Germany or the Nordic Countries in Europe, for example, which charge no or very tuition to its university students.

Corruption in university operations is the simplest form, and can be tackled directly by implementing management systems which deliver a goo degree of control over operation. In a sense, this is the easiest form of corruption to manage.

Corruption in research has been widely publicized in some high level cases, where renowned academics massively falsified data, or engaged in extensive self-citation or citation of others without giving credit. At a lower level, plagiarism or data falsification is something that can be tackled now more effectively through anti-plagiarism software, and open-data initiatives.

Regarding corruption in teaching is can be of two kinds: the type of corruption breaking the rules, and then the more subtle kind. The selling of exams, paying for grades or breaking other assessment rules are relatively easy to identify and reduce. In particular the selling of grades in return of sexual favours is a hideous crime, and should be strongly punished. 

The more subtle kind of corruption in teaching however is evident when universities offering courses that have become largely irrelevant. Eager students are preparing for the future and want to know the latest information. Middle aged teachers want to give the same course over and over again, so that they don't spend time doing other things, mostly not related to teaching or research.

Another subtle kind of corruption is the collusion between teachers, who are not attending to their jobs or working elsewhere, and students. The teachers pretend to teach, the students pretend to study. The effects of this on the employ ability of graduates is almost immediate, because once employers suspect that the graduates "only look good on paper" but do not possess the necessary competences, they will hire graduates from elsewhere. Reversing this impression is a costly exercise, involving revising curricula, implementing academic procedures and processes properly, dismissing incompetent or non performing faculty, and hiring competent faculty, and communicating this convincingly to the employers.

At our university, we have done much to corruption in governance and in operations In fact, we hope on our 51st dies natalis (birthday) on 26 May we will be able to hand over the Chancellor the first set of recent externally audited accounts for 2013 and 2014. This will make us again reliable partners in the eyes of our stakeholders, as we were under the Vice Chancellor Mosely Moramoro.  Our next steps this year will be to tackle more effectively corruption in access, teaching and research.

Final Remarks

As I proceeded in my career, I started to become more aware of the importance of solid principles and values underpinning our professional and personal lives. Any type of corruption became an anatheme for me, and I am repulsed by it.

Today, I belief this program on Student Centred Teaching will help us refocus on our mission and eliminate all forms of corruption at our university, it will strengthen our values, and renew our courage to live and act by them. It is the best way of stopping any type of corruption in teaching.

Why am I one of the co-facilitators in a course on student-centred teaching? First, because I feel it is my duty to assure that my experience with international best-practice percolates in our classrooms. If all the improvements we made in other areas, do not influence what happens in the classroom we still would have failed. We need to make haste with the digital distribution of teaching materials, in fact we have now phased out the distribution of unreadable photocopies for the 1st and 2nd year students who all have laptops. The digital teaching materials should be made available in a Learning Management System, for which we have identified Google Classroom. Using this LMS will also make it possible to become a dual delivery university, where the same courses are deliver presentially on campus, and online with the help of tutors on the satellite campuses.

Secondly, it is my intention to hand it over quickly to others, because in my role as Vice Chancellor I don't really have time to teach a full course. Vice Chancellors usually make for terrible teachers. I am sure Dr. Jim Lem and Dr. Veronica Bue – my co-facilitators in this course – will do a better job than I, and will be among those who embody the future leadership of this university. Leadership of a formal kind as members of the Vice Chancellor's office, Deans or Heads of Departments possibly, but more importantly leadership of a moral and academic kind.

Finally, my mother taught me a long time ago that learning and service to others is the only true satisfaction in life. As teachers we are at the service of our students, and they deserve the best we can offer. At times, we must also be of service to our fellow teachers. In the words of the great poet Tagore:

 "I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy." (Rabindranath Tagore Nobel Prize Literature 1913).

 Let's act therefore today.


  1. Dr Schram, I salute you for what you have presented and hence its not a revelation and no one should be affected neither individual, group.

    Please have the books for Unitech Audited as far as 2010. Don't use the same old Accounting Firm who has been eating from the old plate. Use someone new.

    Dr. Schram you are doing fine.

    Wale Molumi


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