Academic Corruption in African Higher Institutions: The Nigerian Experience
Catalogue Vol.26 No. 1 Academic Corruption in African Higher Institutions: The... Nigerian Experience



The basic question of what explains corrupt behavior in our higher institutions has long plagued scholars and other professionals who are interested in corruption studies. Many disciplines such as political science, economics, business and organizational studies have carried out researches on the causes of corruption in our higher institutions, its effects and the ways, in which corrupt practices can be eliminated, yet, the menace keeps surging higher.

This study aims at comprehensively investigating the causes, effects and implications of corrupt practices in our higher education. By discussing the grave effects of academic fraud in our higher schools and exploring specific examples across the globe, the paper sought to raise aware- ness of the deterioration in our educational sector occasioned by corruption. Basically, the study is qualitative, utilizing mostly secondary sources of data such as books, journals, newspaper articles, conference papers, internet publications, among others; all considered relevant in understanding the issue of academic corruption in our higher institutions. The findings of the study reveal that corruption has invaded all the sectors of higher education – the students, lecturers, non-teaching staff and the management administrators. The study, thus, concludes by recommending among other things that scholars and other stakeholders should support measures that improve information flow about the cost of corruption, and units of all the anti-corruption bodies in Nigeria should be set up in all our public higher institutions to monitor and detect early signs of corrupt tendencies in our higher education.

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According to Farlex (2003),

...higher educational institutions are tertiary establishments that train highly qualified specialists and scientific and pedagogical personnel for various branches of the economy, science, and culture; conduct theoretical and applied scientific research, which forms the basis for training specialists; and provide refresher courses for teachers in higher and secondary specialized schools and for specialists employed in diverse branches of industry, agriculture, and culture.

This definition summarizes the valid view why societies always look up to higher institutions for new knowledge and innovative thinking. Higher educational institutions include universities, polytechnics, industrial institutes, branch institutes of different specializations (for example, engineering, agriculture, medicine, pedagogy, the arts, and economics), and higher military educational institutions.

Higher institutions contribute to national development through high-level relevant manpower training. Those who acquire proper higher education promote and encourage scholarships which are key factors for the inculcation of proper values for the survival of the individual and the society at large. That is why Nelson Mandela authoritatively asserts that.. helps people become better citizens, get a better-paid job, shows the difference between good and bad.

Education shows us the importance of hard work, and at the same time, helps us grow and develop. Thus, countries or regions that maintain high standard in their higher education system are always seen as countries desirous of sustainable development because standard education provides the necessary tools for improved standard of living.

However, if the higher institutions are corrupted through fraudulent malpractices, the immediate effect will be deterioration in the educational quality, which in turn, increases the risk of unqualified personnel hiring. For instance, the UNDP (1997) observes that corruption lowers access to education in many ways. Most directly, it diverts resources to the rich people, who can afford to pay bribes, and away from poor people, who cannot. Corruption also weakens the government and lessens its ability to fight poverty. More generally, corruption eats away the fabric of public life leading to increased lawlessness and undermining social and political stability.

To be sure, corruption in higher institutions is a global issue that is not limited to any region or continent as we shall observe later in our analyses. Although, it is an acknowledged fact that academic corruption is a global phenomenon, however, its manifestations vary from region to region and from country to country. For instance, higher institutions in Europe and America have strong regulating institutions which have access to public information dedicated to fighting any reported cases of academic corruption to a logical end by bringing the offenders to account. But in Africa, most of the institutions responsible for fighting corruption related matters are weak, lacking in openness and transparency. Thus, the lack of institutional transparency on the side of the regulators of crimes in Africa has resulted in a situation where even politicians, religious leaders and other senior officials in various African countries have purchased fake degrees as a result of academic corruption without any serious punishment to the offenders and their accomplices.

In fact, corruption in higher institutions in Africa manifest in different forms and dimensions. It takes the form of cheating on entrance exams, paying bribe to facilitate the admissions process, bribing lecturers for better grade, unqualified promotions, falsification of age by members of staff, falsified research for publication in journals, late payment of money due to staff for examination invigilation, intimidation and victimization by superior officials, deliberate delay in the progress of PhD candidates because of departmental politics and contract inflation by university administrators. All these problems mentioned militate, lower and devalue higher education in Africa.

As we observed earlier, academic corruption is a global menace that affects all regions and continents, but Africa seems to be at the receiving end of this global malpractice. Just like the issue of the proliferations of small arms and light weapons which Africa produces none, yet, the bulk of the arms are smuggled into Africa through our porous borders; thereby, resulting as it were, in instability and separatist agitations in most African countries. Academic fraud too, did not originate in Africa; yet, its impact is more severe in Africa than any other continent. Corruptions in African higher institutions have adversely affected the governance and quality of education received by African students to the extent that most of them may not compete internationally with their foreign counterparts.

In the past, most African countries did not know what degree mills or “waterside certificates” mean, but with the revolution in the information and communication technology, the region joined the international fraudulent platforms operating in all the higher institutions in the world. Just like the case of Christianity which Europe brought to Africa in the 16th century, Africans have repackaged Christianity to the extent that Europeans now come to Africa for religious solutions to their problems. Similarly, academic fraud and corruption might have not originated in Africa, but some African academics and administrators have repackaged the unpleasant acts to the extent that the entire world is now focusing attention on Africa. A review of the academic fraud being committed in different regions and continents will lend credence to our assertion that academic fraud is a global phenomenon.

In Europe, Trines (2017) reports that in the United Kingdom (UK), the University of Wales, was abolished in 2011 because it ran degree validation programmes with dubious or downright illegal overseas partner institutions. Similarly, academic fraud and corruption appears to be rampant in Russia as well. For instance, Mohamed Bhai (2015) alleged that in September, 2014, a paper was published in the online journal, International Education Studies, describing the alarming situation of corruption in modern Russian higher education which takes the form of cheating on entrance exams, paying a bribe to facilitate the admissions process, bribing professors for better grades.

Mohamed Bhai goes ahead to say that corruption component of the whole industry in Russia could be compared with the budget of a small country. He gave examples of the wide range of corrupt practices in higher education, mentioning the case of a dean who accepted a bribe of 30,000 pounds for a PhD admission, and the feedback from the Moscow Police that some 30-40 professors are caught each year for accepting bribes for good grades.

In the United States of America, corruption is also causing a reputational damage to so many higher institutions there. Osipian (2016) reports that in April 2016, following the widely publicized pepper-spraying of protesters by Campus police, the Chancellor of the University of California Davis, Linda Katehi, was criticized for spending $175,000 on outside consultants for internet search optimization in order to diminish online references to the incident so that the public would see a more favorable image of the University of California. Similarly, Western Kentucky University according to Trines (2017) was in 2016 forced to suspend almost half of its international graduate students recruited by an India-based agent – an episode documented by the New York Times. After admission offers were made, it turned out that the students did not meet admission standards and were academically unfit, despite remedial assistance.

In Asia, the most shocking corruption scandal, known as the Vyapam scam, has just surfaced in India. Vyapam, according to Mohamed Bhai (2015) is a government body in the Indian State of Madhya Pradesh and is responsible for conducting entrance examinations for government jobs and admissions to higher education institutions, including the much sought-after medical colleges. There had been earlier reports of irregularities in Vyapam but until recently no one had imagined the scale of the admission and recruitment scam, involving politicians, business- men, senior officials and some 2,500 impersonators taking exams in the name of weaker students. More than 2,000 people have been arrested. Worse, tens of people directly involved in the scam have died; some suspected cases of murder and suicide. The matter has now been referred to India’s Central Bureau of Investigation. Similarly, in China, Altbach (2015) reports that 2010-degree mills were exposed, and that American government announced that it is prosecuting 15 Chinese nationals accused of cheating the college entrance examination system in a scam that included false passports.

The African continent has its fair share of this monster that had invaded the whole system of higher learning. For instance, Mohamed Bhai (2015) claims that in May, 2015, South African authorities shut down 42 bogus colleges and universities that were offering fake and unaccredited programmes, including three supposedly US-based universities offering degrees in 15 days. Similarly, Trines (2017) claims that in Kenya, recent legislation required members of parliament to hold a universi- ty degree. The law was eventually scrapped, but that it sent panicked politicians rushing to obtain degrees. Some politicians simply submitted forged credentials. In other cases, corrupt university officials graduated prominent, often academically unqualified students from abbreviated or non-existent study programmes. When the scandal came out, a number of universities were in 2017 forced to revoke illegitimate degrees awarded to elected politicians. A Kenyan government audit charged universities with the suspect issuance of degree certificates and the award of degrees without appropriate coursework.

In Uganda, the government investigated Busoga University in 2016 for issuing more than 1,000 “premium-tuition” degrees to South Sudanese students, many of them military officers flocking to Uganda for easy degrees to secure government positions back home. The university allegedly admitted according to Trines (2017) students without adequate academic prerequisites and graduated them from “abbreviated” two-month degree programmes. Again, in 2017, Uganda arrested 88 staff members at Makerere University for corruption in connection with alteration of students’ grades and the issuance of fraudulent degrees. In Nigeria, which is the focus of this study, corruption in the higher institutions include: bribery to get a position; NYSC (National Youth Service Scheme) mobilization before graduation; facilitating fake transcripts; short-recruitment employment procedures; auctioning university assets without authorization; politicized disciplinary action; inflated contracts, admission irregularities and racketeering, result falsification; nepotism; sexual harassment; examination question leakages, abetting examination malpractices; and deliberate poor invigilation of examinations.

Having examined some corruption cases in some continents and regions of the world, the study will focus attention and investigate how corruption is perpetrated in Nigerian higher institutions. To achieve this objective, the paper is structured into sections. With this introductory overview, the study proceeds by explaining the concept: “corruption” in order to clarify the conceptual ambiguities associated with it. Section three examines the various forms or categories of corruption in our higher institutions; section four discusses the causes of corruption in our higher education; section five evaluates the effects or impacts of corruption in our institutions and the way forward, while section six concludes with policy recommendations.

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