Magazine article Times Higher Education

Romanian Reformation: Opinion

Magazine article Times Higher Education

Romanian Reformation: Opinion

Article excerpt

Corruption in the academy is being challenged by a 'clean universities' ranking and the power of press coverage, says Alina Mungiu- Pippidi.

What is to be done when an entire education system is corrupted, when universities sell cheap diplomas and the best academics move abroad?

Consider the case of Romania, where corruption has been pervasive for more than 20 years. Government ministers are proven serial plagiarists, students acquire their dissertations for modest sums online, and a failure to investigate allows widespread cheating to take place without censure. Everyone gets a degree, nearly all MPs are also professors at a university they helped to gain accreditation through their influence, and all seem to benefit; however, no Romanian university features in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings and the country is stagnating without skilled labour.

In 2007, the Romanian Academic Society, an education thinktank, convened a group of students, education unions, journalists and others to form the Coalition for Clean Universities. The aim was to develop a university integrity ranking, both to name and shame those failing in their duties, and to celebrate and spread good practice.

Under the coalition's methodology, each public university is given a governance audit by an evaluation team composed of both faculty and students (all volunteers). A standardised freedom of information request is sent to every university, followed by a field assessment during which management, academics and students are interviewed. Crucial to the success of the integrity ranking is the existence of freedom of information laws, which compel public institutions to provide data when asked. Universities that decline to answer are told that they will be assigned a rank anyway, so there is an incentive to cooperate to improve their position.

The assessment focuses on four categories. The first - transparency and responsiveness - looks at general information that should be freely available to all. The list is long but it includes universities' ethics codes, sources of funding, recruitment procedures and a list of faculty, their CVs and the curriculum they teach. A university's score in this category is based on the number of documents received out of the 20 that are requested, with some weighting for the quality of the information and any delay. The documents collected at this stage, both on- and offline, also help with the next steps of the assessment.

The second category assesses academic integrity, such as the rules for reporting fraud, addressing misconduct and dealing with whistleblowers. And the extent to which these rules are enforced is also considered; for example, if no case of plagiarism is recorded, it is more likely that there is no enforcement than that it has never occurred.

The third category, on governance quality, evaluates procedures for recruitment, teaching and decision-making. Are jobs and fellowships properly advertised? Are examinations fair? Is promotion merit-based or nepotistic? Are earnings higher for academics who have had a greater number of peer-reviewed papers published? This category also looks at whether the university is managed with the input of both faculty and students.

The fourth examines financial management, looking at the risks of embezzlement or other financial irregularities. …

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