One of the topics that has been discussed at China's recent parliamentary meetings is the need to combat corruption in universities – a problem that exists to varying degrees in every university system in every country. This article addresses briefly some of the strategies by which this might be done.
Holistic approach. Corruption is not something which is easily rooted out. It takes time and requires the adoption of a holistic approach comprised of a range of strategies. While specific issues must be the starting point, long term success requires good systems in place and a focus on prevention which is usually the most effective and efficient overall strategy.
Leadership at all levels from within government and within the particular departments of the university is also required. If the leaders take note and initiate action, so will everyone else.
Culture. Laws alone will not effectively combat corruption. When corruption is widespread, it is more than a few rogue individuals who are at fault but often a culture that permeates a wider area of the university such as a particular group like a department. Changing culture is not easy but can be done with a focus on fundamental values, norms, traditions, symbols etc so that integrity becomes an institutional hallmark and a practical reality.
Good governance. Principles and practice are also a requirement. That involves sound procedures, checks and balances, auditing of compliance and other measures that are well understood, executed and regularly reviewed.
Transparency is the light that disinfects corruption. If people can see what is being done, good records are kept and the process made transparent then corruption will be found out, dealt with and be less likely to occur.
Modern media such as the Internet can help build more open systems of governance. Websites can be established that allow stakeholders to be informed and where appropriate to interact with decision makers. Policies, results, outcomes and other information can be posted online. This enables all to monitor both the process and progress.
Human resources are also part of the solution. Universities need to attract and hire the best possible people. Staff in sensitive positions should be rotated wherever possible. Conflict of interest policies should be in place and monitored to deal with relationships which would create even the appearance of a bias, a conflict of interest or other impropriety. Staff also need periodic training related to best practices in preventing corruption. Training programs need to be highly participatory and involve the discussion of hypothetical situations, perhaps with role plays and lots of opportunity for questions.
Reporting. A process needs to be in place that enables people to report incidents of corruption. Staff also need to be protected and even rewarded for blowing the whistle on corruption.
Sound policies and practices are important ways that good governance flows into practice. Policies should be clear, comprehensive without being bureaucratic, available to all and regularly reviewed, evaluated and constantly improved.
Communication. Policies, values and expectations need to be communicated. Reform efforts to combat corruption have to be suited to the needs of the particular country and institutional setting. They can be encouraged by outsiders such as university governance bodies, student alumni and others. Reform efforts have to be communicated and successes celebrated.
Enforcement of laws, procedures and standards must be a reality. People need to see the system working. Note effective enforcement requires a system of "soft laws" (codes of ethics, best practices guides) as well as hard laws (laws, regulations). The purpose of enforcement is not only to punish the offender but also serves to educate others and be an agent of transformational change.
Systemic and international responses. Universities do not operate in isolation. There needs to be an effective system of cooperation between universities and government and universities, employers and other education sectors – all committed to best practices and combating corruption.
Universities are also increasingly international in scope, outlook and impact. Accordingly, the problem of corruption requires international action as well as a local response. Hence there is a need for international leadership in addressing problems and ensuring that all universities of the 21st century aspire to and work to put into practice values of integrity, transparency, academic excellence and good governance.
The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit: http://www.china.org.cn/opinion/eugeneclark.htm
Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.