In 2010, our expert team led by Mihaylo Milovanovitch and Ian Whitman at the OECD Directorate for Education, introduced the idea of using a system-wide approach to corruption prevention in education. At the core of the approach is the notion of integrity: the capacity of education systems to identify, act upon, and prevent misconduct. We saw the analysis of education policy from that angle as a good predictor of corruption risk, and as a source of evidence on how to best prevent it.

The development of a corresponding methodology followed soon thereafter. We called it INTES, which stands for Integrity of Education Systems.

Today, under the guidance of researchers and practitioners from our Center, the methodology has evolved into a tool that is used in a growing number of countries and feeds a growing body of research on integrity in education.

In parallel, the INTES approach has inspired and continues to inspire fruitful partnerships with organisations working on corruption prevention, such as OECD’s Anti-Corruption Network for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, OECD’s Directorate for Education and Skills, UNESCO IIEP, UNDP, Transparency International, the Open Society Foundations, as well as academic institutions.

At present, the Center for Applied Policy and Integrity follows three strands of INTES work: INTES country assessments; integrity research; and integrity training.

INTES country assessments

Education is vulnerable to corruption. The credentials it delivers (qualifications, diplomas, degrees) are sought after as they embody the hopes of families and students for a better future, the resources it absorbs are substantial and thus tempting, and its participants (students, parents, teachers and administrators) depend on each other in ways that can promote complicity.

Results of perception surveys tell us that the risks are real. Year by year, a concerningly high share of people across the world think that their schools and universities are corrupt or plagued by irregularities. Many survey respondents have school-aged children or study themselves, and have experienced corruption in education directly by engaging in it.

Countries, their governments, and civil society organisations are aware of this challenge and attach high priority to the task of finding workable solutions. The Center for Applied Policy and Integrity supports them in this effort with evidence of why participants in education resort to misconduct. The answers are delivered by the INTES assessments. They allow for solutions that address those reasons and make corruption prevention in education relevant, effective and sensitive to the particularities of the education sector.

In carrying out INTES assessments, we rely on regular, readily available data on education system performance, and contextualise that data through a mix of careful desk research and site visits to the countries assessed. The findings pinpoint shortcomings in education policy and practice that supply education participants with incentives and opportunities to engage in misconduct.

We have observed that education improvement, if correctly targeted, can be highly effective in reducing demand and closing opportunities for corruption. The assessment is tailored to the needs of each country. They point out which specific aspects of national education and anti-corruption policy need adjustment, and how to use the proposed changes to strengthen the integrity of schools and universities and support them in resisting corruption.

A sample of INTES assessment reports can be found here.

INTES research

Integrity violations and standards

The INTES assessments deliver country-specific findings on corruption and education, but they also suggest that there are significant, still unexplored commonalities between the integrity violations in different countries.

These violations fit into common definitions, are enabled by similar factors, and infringe similar rules, principles, and international commitments upon which education in these countries is based, and on which it relies to deliver quality, equity, and respect for the rights of education participants. With this strand of research work at the Center, we aim at summarising and analysing these commonalities as basis for the formulation of evidence-based, cross-country standards of integrity in education.

The outcome of this work will benefit researchers and practitioners alike. It provides education and anti-corruption practitioners with an overview of elements that make up an integral education system; it outlines which problematic practices should be defined as offences and why; it illustrates how national and international commitments to integrity and corruption prevention translate and apply to the sector of education; finally it describes what shortcomings in education and anti-corruption policy and practice create the disruptions in education that can stimulate demand and opportunity for corruption.

For more on the conceptual underpinnings of this work, see here

Academic capture

Universities, especially public universities, work in proximity to governments. They rely (to a large extent) on public funding, have a mission to serve the public interest, and commonly have representatives of national authorities on their boards. They also supply the public sector with the graduate workforce that it needs.

For many years, the academic world has treated its inherent closeness to state authority as a source of risk for institutional autonomy and independence. The propensity of academia to treat its connection to government as a potential source of undue influence by the state, has diverted public attention away from some critical questions.

Is the relationship between higher education and political power really unidirectional? Wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that channels of influence can be open on both ends: that the closeness to policy-making, while exposing the universities to a risk of undue influence, also puts them and their staff in a privileged position to influence policy decisions in their own favour?

With this strand of integrity research at the Center we are collecting first-time evidence on academic capture: a conflict of interest situation in which public officials with responsibility for education, such as Ministers of Education, senior civil servants in these Ministries, members of Parliamentary Committees on education, etc., have a financial interest in the form of for-profit affiliation with the higher education institutions for which they are responsible. Examples include an employment contract of the public official with one or more of these institutions, a contract for intellectual services, ownership of university, or else.

Academic capture is an unexplored phenomenon that seems widespread. It is also a problem that deserves immediate attention, because it can influence policy decisions on important issues, such as resource allocations, accreditation and/or closure of universities and programmes, in favour of some institutions and segments of the education system at the expense of others. This can have detrimental, long-term side effects on the education system in a country.

The aim at this stage of research on academic capture is not to provide solutions, but to raise awareness about the problem by collecting and presenting first time evidence on its prevalence in countries across the world.

Integrity and corruption in inclusive education

Since the Salamanca statement in 1994, inclusive education or special needs education has become one of the priorities in education policies in European and Central Asian countries. To develop inclusive education provision, the governments as well as international organizations started and continue to fund various projects. These range from re-building the school environments to educating communities and creating special curricula serving the specific needs of a student.

Each of these efforts is valuable from a human rights perspective and for ensuring the right of every child to education. However, there is little, if any, in-depth research on the results or impact of these efforts.

The efficiency of the reforms towards inclusive education hinges on the integrity of education systems and their capacity to keep a commitment to fairness and equity. The influx of financial and in-kind resources earmarked for promoting inclusiveness in education settings that are notoriously strapped for money, puts, however, this commitment to the test.

For instance, are the funds allocated to schools for adjustments towards inclusive education provision, used solely for the intended purpose? Are those who need support with their access to education also the ones who receive it? Did the inclusive education measures improve or worsen the integrity of education in the country in general?

Countries have undertaken numerous steps to minimise the corruption risks inherent to this area. Still, there is of yet no analysis that addresses integrity of inclusive education in a systematic manner.

We at the Center mobilise the INTES approach to evaluate the integrity and integrity implications of inclusive education policies, with a specific focus on the region of South East Europe. The research focus is on assessing the integrity of inclusive education in selected countries and providing practical recommendations for remedies where they are needed. The anticipated outcomes are integrity recommendations for inclusive education, and the assessment of national inclusive education policies against them.

INTES training

Experiences of countries that have applied an INTES assessment show that the integrity assessment reports can be a powerful analytical and prevention tool, particularly useful in guiding follow-up activities. Still, the true value of an INTES report is determined by the amount of real, positive change that its recommendations bring about.

An integrity assessment of education is meant to provide recommendations in all major areas of national education policy. The suggestions for action provided by an INTES report would therefore typically concern all professional and stakeholder groups participating in the education system.

The effectiveness of measures suggested in an INTES assessment depends on a concerted effort by all involved, in the same way good quality education calls for a contribution by everyone involved. However, different recommendations are of relevance for different groups of education participants. Before those concerned can develop understanding of (and ownership over) actions to improve integrity and become committed agents of change, they need guidance on how integrity matters, and what their role is in preventing corruption in practice.

We are therefore engaging in training programmess tailored to the context and anticipated responsibilities of different groups of education participants for integrity: administrators, teachers and lecturers, parents and students. The workshops usually present dissemination packages that consist of capacity building and thematic components, and draw on the findings of INTES assessments.

This capacity building component is devoted to the INTES methodology and allows participants to raise their capacity to identify and deal with corruption risks in their professional routine. The thematic part allows them to get familiarised with a digest of findings and recommendations of relevance to their role in the education system, and outline the way ahead which might include interventions at any level of the education system.

Information on recent or ongoing training can be found in the news stream of the Center.