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On the Development of Students’ Attitudes towards Corruption and Cheating in Russian Universities by Elena Denisova-Schmidt, Martin Huber and Elvira Leontyeva

(clockwise) Elena Denisova-Schmidt (University of St. Gallen (HSG), Switzerland and Center for International Higher Education, Boston College, USA), Martin Huber (University of Fribourg, Switzerland) and Elvira Leontyeva (Pacific National University, Russia)

Recent Russian initiatives on raising the competitiveness of its higher education system in the international context have been more than successful: The British Times Higher Education magazine included 13 Russian universities on its 2015 list, while only two universities were on this list in 2014. Little by little, Russian universities are moving up into good positions in several other international rankings, such the QS World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (Shanghai Ranking). One of the obstacles that several Russian universities still have to face, however, remains corruption – defined broadly as ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain’ (Transparency International) and ‘the lack of academic integrity’.

Recent Russian initiatives on raising the competitiveness of its higher education system in the international context have been more than successful: The British Times Higher Education magazine included 13 Russian universities on its 2015 list, while only two universities were on this list in 2014. Little by little, Russian universities are moving up into good positions in several other international rankings, such the QS World University Rankings and the Academic Ranking of World Universities (Shanghai Ranking). One of the obstacles that several Russian universities still have to face, however, remains corruption – defined broadly as ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain’ (Transparency International) and ‘the lack of academic integrity’.

In our article ‘On the Development of Students’ Attitudes towards Corruption and Cheating in Russian Universities’ published in EJHE, based on empirical data from selected public universities in Khabarovsk – one of the largest cities in the Russian Far East – we compare first-year and fifth-year students (students about to graduate) with regard to their attitudes towards corruption in general and academic corruption in particular. The results suggest that the students’ acceptance of the use of various cheating techniques increases significantly during their university studies: ‘using crib sheets and other unauthorized materials during exams’ increased by 12%; ‘copying off during exams or tests’ by 25%; ‘downloading term papers (or other papers) from the internet’ by 15%; ‘purchasing term papers (or other papers) from special agencies or from other students’ by 12.5% and ‘giving a professor fraudulent or misleading excuses for poor academic performance’ by 11%.

Fifth-year students claimed to have heard about bribes at universities more frequently than first-year students (significant at the 1% level), even after making the two student groups comparable in the covariates: the difference in awareness across groups amounts to 52% (!). Moreover, fifth-year students consider corruption more frequently to be a ‘necessity’ (significant at the 10% level), a ‘national peculiarity’ (10% level) and ‘an everyday occurrence’ (5% level).

The qualitative results coming from the expert interviews and focus groups suggest that students develop ambivalent attitudes toward the lack of academic integrity over the course of their university studies. On the one hand, they condemn these practices; on the other hand, they can justify them. Though Russia is a country with endemic corruption,[1] this is not necessarily the root of the problem. The improper dependencies of average public universities on state money calculated according to the number of students locks the university administrations into a dilemma: by expelling underachieving students, the university would lose a substantial part of its budget, which may lead to a decline in its research activities and the laying off of professors and staff – and in the long term, to the closing of the university itself. Watering down academic requirements, ignoring and/or pretending to ignore the lack of academic integrity and expecting and/or demanding services and gifts in exchange for better marks are some of the main options for playing the game. From a policy perspective, it therefore seems advisable to tackle the ambivalence towards university corruption as well as the improper dependencies of all the involved actors.

One of the possible measures on the national level might be a reconsideration of the financing of public universities. The dependencies of universities of the number of their students should be mitigated. One of the measures on the university level might be an increase in the awareness of misconduct among the faculty and students and the consequences of non-compliance. Moreover, students should receive more opportunities to choose their subjects as well as the number of exams they need to take per semester. Recent studies conducted on academic integrity in Armenia of behalf of the Council of Europe[2] and the Open Society Foundation[3] provide more recommendations, some of which might also be applicable to the Russian context.

 

 

[1] In its 2015 index of 168 countries, Transparency International ranked Russian corruption in 119th place. http://www.transparency.org/cpi2015

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