This module is a resource for lecturers  


Costs of corruption in education


Corruption, in general, has extremely damaging effects on society. Some scholars have tried to quantify the negative effects of corruption on the economy, with figures showing that even small increases in the incidence of corruption are related to decreases of a few hundred dollars in GDP per capita (see, e.g., Dreher and Herzfeld, 2005). However, the non-material costs of corruption are even more destructive, ranging from the erosion of democratic values, human rights and freedoms, to the loss of human lives.

Corruption in education has immediate impacts, both economic and social. Economically, one direct result of obtaining degrees and other qualifications based on bribes, rather than on ability, is that unsuitable people are allocated to jobs and positions of authority. At best, talent is wasted and the potential for development is unrealized, and at worst, financial losses are incurred and lives and livelihoods are destroyed. This is what economists call "allocative inefficiencies" (Banerjee, Mullanaithan and Hanna, 2012). The quality of education itself decreases, which creates a breeding ground for further corruption and a self-perpetuating underprovision of human capital. 

Socially, corruption in education has a wide range of consequences. Corruption acts as a barrier to education, either because it makes the cost of acquiring an education prohibitive, or because the act of education simply does not take place in the designated space. It follows that, where educators are absent, individuals are deprived of the fundamental right of education. When qualifications are obtained, not by merit but through favouritism or bribes, the implicit contract between education recipients and the institutions or educators is breached, leading to an erosion of trust in people and institutions. Another serious consequence is the lack of motivation that corruption causes among students. For example, students could start wondering what the point is of studying for two weeks for a difficult exam when they can bribe the professor and pass anyway. Moreover, students develop the understanding that the system works in corrupt ways and that bribes are necessary to get things done - a modus operandi which students later transfer to their professional and daily activities. 

Corruption in education is particularly problematic because it affects the disadvantaged and most vulnerable disproportionately, raising serious obstacles to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). According to the 2010/2011 Global Corruption Barometer, the poor are twice as likely to be asked to pay bribes than the wealthy. When the poor cannot afford to pay bribes, they are either subjected to extortion in other ways, for example through sexual exploitation, or are denied access to education services, which should be free or affordable. As a consequence, corruption in education deepens economic and social inequality and hinders social mobility. In some cases, the poor may seem to benefit from widely accepted corrupt practices such as cheating and appearing to perform better than they would in the absence of corruption. However, this deceptive performance only serves to hide the actual underinvestment in skills and delays policies which can reduce the true inequalities (Borcan, Lindahl and Mitrut, 2017). 

Next:  Causes of corruption in education
Back to top