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Former Soviet Bloc Corruption Threatens Education

Posted By Vanderbilt Magazine On July 13, 2008 @ 1:17 pm In Bright Ideas, Summer 2008 | No Comments


´╗┐Corruption in the former Soviet Union threatens the European Union’s attempts to standardize university degrees, warns Stephen P. Heyneman.
Photo by Daniel Dubois.

Graduates of universities in the former Soviet Republic may find their degrees losing value as corruption among higher education programs continues to rise, two Vanderbilt professors find in a new study published in the February issue of Comparative Education Review.

The study confirms what many educators have learned anecdotally: Educational corruption in the former U.S.S.R. and other former communist regimes has increased since the end of the Cold War.

“Education corruption is among the most serious new problems in economic development today,” says Stephen P. Heyneman, co-author of the study along with Kathryn H. Anderson, professor of economics at Vanderbilt, and Nazym Nuralyeva, lecturer in sociology at a university in Kazakhstan.

Heyneman, professor of international educational policy at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development, presented the results to a meeting of the Kazakhstan cabinet in February.

“Although educational corruption existed under the Soviet Union, we hypothesize that it was modest by comparison to the level today,” the authors said. Among the immediate problems for the students is that a devalued degree adversely affects their earning power.

Devaluation of degrees has serious international policy implications, degrades the entire social system of those countries, and decreases the likelihood that those graduates will be able to improve their economic standing, say the researchers. Perceived corruption also could jeopardize funding from international development-assistance organizations that might rethink their participation.

Since 1999 members of the European Union have been working to make university degrees equivalent in hopes of facilitating transfer students and greater mobility in the labor market. Ministers of education from 29 European countries in the Italian city of Bologna signed what has come to be known as the “Bologna Process,” which was then opened up to other countries signatory to the European Cultural Convention of the Council of Europe. Further governmental meetings have been held in Prague (2001), Berlin (2003), Bergen (2005) and London (2007).

But the taint of scandal might abruptly halt that process, Heyneman says. “It is difficult to imagine why a country or a university with a high reputation would allow its degrees to be made equivalent to those of a university or a university system with a reputation for corruption,” the authors said in the report.

The study surveyed universities in Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Moldova, Kazakhstan and the Kyrgyz Republic using the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index for 2005.

“By design, one function of education is to purposefully teach the young how to behave in the future,” the study points out. “If the education system is corrupt, one can expect future citizens to be corrupt as well.” V

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