Corruption in education services

Why fight corruption in education?

With the formulation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), leaders around the world have made a political commitment to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” (SDG 4) by 2030. Education is a fundamental human right, a key driver of economic development and a social investment in the future. It provides citizens with the skills and tools to sustain their livelihoods, escape poverty and contribute to social and economic development. Education has a strong correlation with a number of development indicators, such as economic growth,[1] child mortality,[2] poverty rate,[3] inequality,[4] mortality rates, income growth[5] and access to healthcare. It shapes the values of coming generations and can impart principles such as dignity, integrity, liberty, equality, accountability and transparency which play a vital role in promoting development, social justice, human rights and anti-corruption efforts. In light of this core societal function, it is no surprise that education accounts for over 20 per cent of total government public sector expenditure in many countries.[6]  

Corruption in the education sector is a major obstacle to realising the universal right to education and to achieving SDG 4. Yet corruption in the education sector is widespread in many countries with 41 per cent of people globally thinking that the education sector in their country is corrupt or extremely corrupt.[7]  

Corruption undermines the quality and availability of education services and distorts access to (quality) education. This disproportionally affects the poor, rendering disadvantaged children reliant on substandard education services where little learning can take place. It affects virtually all aspects of education, from school infrastructure to teacher salaries and academic curricula. Resources pilfered from education means scarcity of learning and research equipment, poor-quality school facilities, the hiring of fewer and/or underpaid teachers, larger class sizes and increased workloads for teachers. Corruption therefore increases the cost of education and leads to lower academic standards, resulting in distorted test scores and school rankings, and lower satisfaction with the public education system.[8]  

As a result, corruption undermines the public’s trust in the education system and its usefulness, leading to higher drop-out and lower enrolment rates.[9] Lack of resources, low quality of education or poorly qualified personnel in public education institutions may also drive students who can afford it to look for private alternatives, exacerbating inequalities and undermining equal access to education and personal development opportunities. Corruption in higher education also affects enrolment rates in university and contributes to a lowering of academic standards and the recognition of degrees and certificates,[10] ultimately undermining students’ qualifications and prospects for employment.[11]

Corruption in education may also open the door for a “brain-drain” at higher levels of education, forcing education professionals to leave an institution, region or country to increase their income, improve their working conditions, or increase their professional development opportunities. In turn, this brain-drain may further erode the quality and quantity of education services.  

Corruption in the education sector does not only harm teachers and students but the communities and societies they live in too. As the sector responsible for training future leaders and professionals, corruption in education has far reaching consequences on social and economic development, resulting in poorly trained doctors, judges or engineers or underqualified leaders running the economy. Corrupt education systems produce lower quality, less qualified employees and raises the costs (due to competition) of attracting and retaining skilled workers.[12] Corruption in education can also stifle creativity and innovation in businesses, affecting the growth of businesses.[13] In higher education, undue influence from government and private sector not only undermines academic freedom but can also skew research agendas and damage the credibility of academic research findings.



Iñaki Albisu Ardigó; Marie Chêne


Matthew Jenkins

Contributing experts:

Umrbek Allakulov (Water Integrity Network)

Shaazka Beyerle (US Institute of Peace)

Simone Bloem (Center for Applied Policy)

Claire Grandadam (Water Integrity Network)

Jacques Hallak (Jules Verne University – Amiens)

Mihaylo Milovanovitch (Centre For Applied Policy)

Muriel Poisson (International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP-UNESCO)

Juanita Riano (Inter-American Development Bank)

Marc Y. Tassé (Canadian Centre of Excellence for Anti-Corruption)

Vítězslav Titl (University of Siegen)

Davide Torsello (Central European University Business School)

Patty Zakaria (Royal Roads University)



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