Strengthen Integrity & Combat Corruption in Higher Education
I am writing this blog post as I sit in a hotel in Budva, Montenegro attending a meeting sponsored by the European Union and the Council of Europe and implemented by the Council of Europe. I was invited as an academic integrity expert by the Council of Europe to speak at a meeting organized for Montenegro universities so they could learn about and discuss how they can strengthen integrity and combat corruption in higher education. Based on what I’ve learned thus far about the efforts over here, I decided that the Council of Europe’s program and Montenegro’s efforts on academic integrity deserved a spotlight post in this blog.
According to the Council of Europe’s website, their efforts in Montenegro stem from the mission of their Platform on Ethics, Transparency, and Integrity in Education (or ETINED), which is to (in direct verbiage from their website):
- Share information and good practices in the field of transparency and integrity in education;
- Contribute to the development of adequate answers to challenges that corruption poses to the sector of education and higher education;
- Create a virtuous cycle in education, whereby all actors commit to fundamental positive ethical principles;
- Develop capacity-building for all actors.
The premise behind this mission is that quality education can only be achieved if integrity and ethics are front and center.
While not a unique premise, it is also not common. In many countries and universities, there is a failure of political and institutional leadership to see that a direct line can be drawn between academic integrity and educational quality. Typically, in such countries and universities, quality is measured by things such as graduate rates, access, time to degree, grades, faculty publication rates, and so on. Unfortunately, such measures of “quality” can be easily obtained without integrity. All countries and universities should be attending to the quality that can only be obtained with integrity – the achievement of learning outcomes and the mastery of knowledge and skills.
The Council of Europe’s efforts in Montenegro are intended to help the country’s universities develop ethical standards, promote best quality education practices, and prevent and address corruption. This means that ETINED is focused on every actor in the educational institution, not just the student. Unlike many universities in the west, which tend to separate student integrity from faculty and administrator integrity, the Council of Europe and its ETINED program understand that for our educational institutions to have integrity, all actors must be involved and standards for integrity must be applied to all. Not only does this make practical sense, but such an approach upholds our ICAI fundamental values of fairness, respect, responsibility and trustworthiness.
In other words, we should only ask of our students what we are willing to do ourselves.
In Montenegro, I’m finding what I find in many non-western countries but seldom in places like the US, Canada, and the UK – national attention to academic integrity, national commitment to combatting corruption, and a willingness to admit that things could be done better and with more integrity. While the UK is starting to also acknowledge the need to tackle academic corruption at the national level (especially through the Quality Assurance Agency), not every country is demonstrating the courage to do just that. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a university president in the United States, for example, stand up and publicly admit that their institution has a cheating problem and to announce the efforts that will be taken to combat cheating and encourage integrity.
Thus, I applaud the Council of Europe and Montenegro in their courage to speak up and out for integrity and against corruption, and I especially applaud the universities who are extending resources to follow-through on this commitment once the Council of Europe’s funding is exhausted.
Their actions exemplify the power and importance of institutional leadership in ensuring institutional and academic integrity. As I summarized in my piece on “Leveraging Institutional Integrity” for the Handbook for Academic Integrity – “institutional members will follow the lead of those in positions of leadership and authority, the integrity of an institution is, in part, shaped by the actions of leaders, especially on what they spend their time, attention, and resources” (pg. 4)
So, thank you to the Council of Europe and our Montenegro colleagues for demonstrating what courage for the sake of integrity looks like.