Vanderbilt researchers find: Corruption in former Soviet bloc universities increases, threatens value of higher education

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 had learned anecdotally: Educational corruption in the former USSR 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,” said 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 education policy at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development, presented the results of the article to a meeting of the Kazakhstan cabinet earlier this month.

“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, the researchers said.

Perceived corruption also could jeopardize funding from international development assistance organizations who might rethink their participation, the authors said.

In addition, universities with reputations for corruption might unintentionally end the ongoing “Bologna Process.” An objective of that process among members of the European Union is to make university degrees equivalent in hopes of facilitating transfer students and greater mobility in the labor market. “It would constitute the educational equivalent in the European Union of unilateral disarmament,” the authors said of the Bologna Process.

But the taint of scandal might abruptly halt that process, Heyneman said. “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.

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

Comparative Education Review investigates education throughout the world and the social, economic and political forces that shape it. Founded in 1957 by the University of Chicago Press to advance knowledge and teaching in comparative education studies, the Review has since established itself as the most reliable source for the analysis of the place of education in countries other than the United States.

Media Contact: Jennifer Johnston (615) 322-NEWS

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