Ethics and corruption in education

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The design and enforcement of ethical standards and teacher codes of conduct

3. Red-flags

One of the keys to success in detecting fraud is the likelihood of spotting anomalies, also referred to as red flags. These can be situations or occurrences regarding the behaviour of an individual, for example, the conditions in which a teacher corrects exam papers, or an activity that includes several stakeholders, such as the construction of a new school.

Detailed below are the major red flags to look out for as to teacher behaviour and their main risks.


Red flags

Main risks

Teacher behaviour

Does not present an original diploma on request

Certificate may come from a fake/non accredited university


Low salaries/ extravagant lifestyle

Conducting/correction of exams are not paid

Very high % of students pass the exams/ very good results

Can ‘encourage’/ indicate that teachers claim illegal fees from students
Leakage of information before examination


Very high absence among students

Abuse of the teacher-student relationship (bribes for passing exams, sexual harassment etc)


Unjustified absence among teachers

Paid but does not respect the contract (false sick leave…)
Very poor working conditions (psychological or sexual harassment from colleagues/staff)


Teacher providing private tuition to their students

Distortion of mainstream curricula, pressure on young pupils

4. What strategies to adopt?

A. Codes developed by public sector

Bangladesh, Nepal and India are examples of countries that have made the required institutional arrangements to ensure better management of public services, to promote ethical behaviour among the public servants, and to combat corruption. These three countries have formulated a set of codes of practice for teacher, which aims at empowering teachers and facilitating the efficient management of education.

A study conducted by B.P. Khandelwal and K. Biswal, in cooperation with E.A. Dewan and H.R. Bajracharya (see link further down), compares the design, implementation and impact of teachers’ codes of practices the three countries. It was carried out on the basis of the perceptions of a cross section of stakeholders, including teachers, administrators, policy-makers, representatives of teacher unions, parents and community members. The general view is that the codes have a positive and significant impact in improving the commitment, professional behaviour and performance of teachers and staff, and really contribute to the reduction of teacher absenteeism (see table below).

Source of unethical behaviour

Very serious


Less serious

Not at all a source

Abuses in human resource management

India, Bangladesh, Nepal




Abuses in supply and purchase of materials


India, Bangladesh, Nepal



Conduct of school inspection



India, Bangladesh,


School admissions





School examinations and qualifications



India, Bangladesh,


Embezzlement/ mismanagement of school finance

Bangladesh, Nepal




Staff attendance/absenteeism


Bangladesh, Nepal



Poor human relations among staff in the school



India, Bangladesh,


Private tuition by teachers

India, Bangladesh,




* ‘X’ does not mean ‘no response’. It implies lower responses to specific questions relating to the degree of seriousness of the major sources of unethical behaviour among teachers.

In India and Bangladesh, the codes play a significant role in improving the commitment, professional behaviour and performance of the teachers and staff. It is seen as important for reducing incidences of abuses in the school admission system. For example, most of the respondents felt that, after the implementation of the codes, a large number of teachers stopped undertaking private tuitions in India – whereas it is still a major concern in Bangladesh.

Enforcement of the codes and sanctions

There is, however, no systematic capacity building programme undertaken to enforce the codes in these three countries, and it is difficult to integrate the codes into the curriculum for teacher training. A fairly large number of the respondents said that they were not very familiar with the procedures for lodging complaints against the erring teachers and staff. What is more, several social, economic, political, administrative and institutional constraints related to systemic corruption and transparency issues tend to hinder the effective implementation of the codes.

In the three countries, major sources of unethical practices are more or less the same, i.e. abuse in human resource management; embezzlement of school funds; private tuition by teachers; teacher and staff absenteeism; and abuse in supply and purchase of materials. Political, structural and institutional factors partly explain the unethical behaviour of teachers and staff in the school education sector. The design and development of codes in these countries are highly centralized, and there is provisional/limited participation of the stakeholders. The majority of teachers do not have access to copies of the codes and lack knowledge of the codes. They have not been empowered to use the codes effectively. The governments of these countries are less serious in enforcing the codes. This is illustrated by the fact that many teachers do not know how to lodge a complaint against an erring teacher or staff. Even when complaints are made, they are not taken seriously in most cases. A host of political, institutional, administrative, and social factors can be attributed to ineffective implementation of the codes in these countries.

The study concludes that there is a need for creating access to information and the codes of practice in the education sector. Mere formulation of codes is not enough to ensure their effective implementation. Capacity building of teachers, staff and other stakeholders in the education sector in the use of the codes is extremely important in these countries. Similarly, the creation of a database on the enforcement of the codes is critical in planning and monitoring their effective implementation.

For more information on this study : >> Download      

B. Codes developed by teachers themselves

The experience from the Province of Ontario in Canada can be regarded as a ’success story’. Instead of adopting imposed codes, which are often developed by the government, Ontario has a self-regulating body that determines the code of conduct. Adopting these codes developed the teaching profession toward a self-governing profession, and an integral disciplinary process that provides a mechanism for controlling inappropriate professional conduct, was developed.

Two sets of standards were developed by the Ontario College of Teachers; ‘Standards of practice’ and ‘Ethical standards’. The Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession was the first set of standards to be constructed. Literature review, focus group interviews, formal discussion groups, telephone interviews, summary reports, further collection of qualitative data from members of the education community and public were used in development of these standards. In a six-month period, approximately six hundred persons were involved in the process. It consisted of the following interdependent standards:

Commitment to students and student learning
Professional knowledge

Teaching practice, leadership and community

Ongoing professional learning
Development of the Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession

The development of the second set of standards, the Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession, parallels that of the Standards of Practice in practice. The purposes of the Ethical Standards are:

To clarify the ethics of the profession
To inspire the quality of behaviour which reflects the honour and
dignity of the profession
To encourage and emphasize those positive attributes of
professional conduct which characterize strong and effective teaching and
To enable the profession to declare itself publicly accountable

These standards apply to educators and their professional relationships with students in the areas of confidentiality, respect, professional environment, and cooperation with other professionals, and professional responsibilities.

Enforcement of the codes & sanctions

In order to ensure the enforcement of the Standards, the Ontario College of Teachers developed a formal plan outlining a phased-in implementation, albeit, two years after the Standards of Practice were introduced. The implementation and communication plan, practical in both content and process for the Standards of Practice, was introduced.

Several College committees are involved in ensuring that the public teaching body provides safe and appropriate instruction for students. The Discipline Committee determines an allegation of incompetence or professional misconduct of a College member, which is based on the Professional Misconduct Regulation. When professional misconduct is proven, a college member could face a range of disciplinary actions from reprimand to revocation of teaching certification. The role of the Investigation Committee is to investigate complaints against members of the College regarding professional misconduct, incompetence, or incapacity.

For more information on this study   >> Download

Academic honesty
Accredited institutions
Computer network/Internet
Examination books (standards/delays to respect etc.)
Grade policy
Hiring/ retirement of staff
Misconduct in academic research
Personal leave (particularly for staff)

Codes of conduct in universities

Corruption can be found at all levels in the education system. However, it is at university-level where corrupt behaviour is of particular concern. One of the reasons for this might be the relatively high level of financial resources involved in entrance fees, contracting etc.

Codes of conduct can be developed for several areas at university-level. The following is a list of some of the main areas where guidelines can be of particular importance:

Due to the expansion of higher education there is a growing need for recognition and certification of courses. In addition, the trans-border phenomenon of overseas students and courses are becoming increasingly difficult to regulate.

For more information on the subject:
download the paper >> Academic fraud and quality assurance: Facing the challenge of internationalization of higher education
by J. Hallak & M. Poisson

To address such issues, some key strategies have been identified:

Designing guidelines and codes of practice pertaining to the recruitment and support of overseas students:

Together UNESCO and OECD have paved the way by formulating guidelines for quality in cross-border higher education. They prescribe the following four main policy objectives:

  • Student and learners should be protected from the risks of misinformation, low-quality provision and qualifications of limited validity;
  • Qualifications should be readable and transparent in order to increase their international validity and portability;
  • Recognition procedures should be transparent, coherent, fair and reliable, and impose as little burden as possible to mobile professionals; and,
  • National quality assurance and accreditation agencies need to intensify their international cooperation in order to increase mutual understanding.

Code of good practice in the provision of transnational education, adopted in 2001, is another example

Developing codes of practice and standards of academic integrity for personnel in higher education institutions and overseas students:
This strategy has been adopted by North-western University (USA), where registration of overseas students now requires adherence to codes of conduct and to the University’s standards of academic integrity. These codes prohibit the:

  • Falsification of any portion of the application for admission or financial aid;
  • Falsification or alteration of any academic or personal records required for participation;
  • Plagiarism, cheating, fabrication and obtaining an unfair advantage.

Students can be withdrawn from the program at any time if they violate the codes or standards.

Use of computer networks

Appropriate use of instructional resources found via shared educational tools, such as university computer networks and the Internet, concern most universities. The increased use of such resources requires that administrators, teachers, library media specialists and students take steps to ensure they are used in a correct way, i.e. avoid misuse of copyright, access to sensitive information (personal information on staff or students), exam papers, result lists, and so on.

In response to these concerns, universities are required to establish guidelines for the appropriate use of computer networks. Such guidelines are generally called an Acceptable Internet Use Policy, or AUP. By definition, an AUP is a written agreement in the form of guidelines, signed by students, teachers and staff, outlining the terms and conditions of Internet use-rules of online behavior and access privileges.

Here are some examples of acceptable use policies adopted by universities and a link to a handbook on the subject:

Further information on all the topics listed above can be found at the web-site for Centre for Practical Ethics, York University: