What is academic corruption?

BriberyThe week-long 31st convocation and 40th anniversary celebrations of the University of Ilorin peaked last Friday with the anniversary lecture by the President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama. During the event, President Muhammadu Buhari warned lecturers in Nigerian higher institutions of learning against “academic corruption”.

According to the President, who was represented on the occasion by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Engr. David Babachir, corruption transcends offering money and it goes beyond what only politicians engage in. The menace has crept into the inner precincts of our citadels of learning and it should stop.

Well, the bitter truth is that the President was right on target. Gone were the days when the mere mentioning of a university would make people think of perfection and infallibility. These days, with the proliferation of universities and the lowering of standards through the recruitment of all sorts of characters with questionable higher degrees, our universities have become associated with “sharp practices” perpetrated by unscrupulous students and unconscionable lecturers alike.

It is well known that Transparency International (TI) defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”, a definition that goes beyond associating corruption with only the public office holders. Corruption to my mind is essentially the use of public office or official power for personal interest.

Having defined corruption, what then is academic corruption? Academic corruption involves all forms of deviation from justice, honesty, fairness, probity, impartiality and discipline expected from institutions of learning. Academic corruption actually stems from moral impurity and it manifests in selfish acts that are detrimental to the goal of education and advancement of society.

As Prof. A. B. Kasozi explains, academic corruption includes, though not limited to, plagiarism, fabrication, deception, cheating, bribery, sabotage, professional misconduct on the part of lecturers, impersonation on the part of students and professors as well as the use of institutional authority or name for personal gain in the process of higher education delivery or reception.

In Nigeria, we are often regaled with the reports of how lecturers sexually harass female students in sex-for-marks corruption while male students are extorted in cash-for-marks misconduct. Apart from plagiarism, commercialisation of admission or admission racketeering, examination malpractices, unethical sale of handouts, wrongful marks alteration and deliberate failure to teach students are some of the most pervasive forms of academic corruption on our campuses.

In August this year, the news of a lecturer who raped an admission applicant at the University of Lagos dominated the airwaves. Just last month, a lawless Dean of Law at the University of Calabar was suspended because of the allegation of raping a 400 level Law student. Such stories are not uncommon on many campuses as a result of academic corruption.

These days, some lecturers and professors boast of academic papers that are completely plagiarised. Many students, with the active connivance of their parents, parade grades that were earned by “mercenaries” who were paid to sit for public exams in the names of such candidates. Not a few students nowadays wonder why they should carry out independent studies when they can “easily” Google and enjoy their peace.

The implications of academic corruption for our society are already stark. Our schools are filled with incompetent teachers who had been “pushed” through higher institutions of learning. Our hospitals have become mortuaries because doctors were not well trained as medical students appear more interested in the title than a career of saving lives. Our buildings collapse and fatalities occur because poor teaching and poor learning resulted in theoretical engineers that are bereft of quality. Mediocre professionals and amateur experts dominate national horizons running and ruining the nation.

It is therefore worth re-echoing, for our collective peace and development, that lecturers should be the vanguards of academic discipline and integrity. As the President said, “the children under your care must not be used as agents for the destabilization of our society. Our universities must demonstrate high quality intellectual leadership that will engender political, economic and social progress so that together we might build a nation that will be the pride of all”.

One of the ways of addressing academic corruption is the institutionalisation of assessment of lecturers by students. It gives students some power and it provides a sort of checks and balances. I first experienced this 10 years ago as a graduate student of Governors State University, Illinois, USA. The University of Ilorin introduced it seven years ago and the National Universities Commission (NUC) will do well to let all universities in Nigeria fall in line.