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Is There Corruption in Moldova’s Universities?

Underpaid faculty members may have no choice but to seek different sources of supplemental income. 

September 15, 2019
 
 

As with other segments of the public sector, higher education in Moldova may not be entirely free of corruption. Informal conversations about higher education corruption with different interested parties including students, former students, parents, and citizens bore some fruit. So, is there corruption in Moldova’s universities? Higher education in Moldova is popular, and academic degrees are in high demand. It is very popular to have a BA, MA, or doctorate. As alleged by some of the respondents, some dissertations may be successfully defended and doctorates received in exchange for bribes. For many, prestige and social status make a doctorate a must have.

Officially, not only are bribes illegal, but gifts are too. Moreover, gifts are specifically outlined designated illegal in the criminal code. No gifts, no chocolate, not even flowers are allowed. Nevertheless, the practice of gift-giving flourishes. Double standards are reality of Moldova. On the one hand, there are anti-corruption rules that ban flowers. On the other hand, this is the way things are done. The government pays low salaries and thus many talented and educated people leave the academic profession (and quite frequently the country) in search of higher earnings. Despite numerous allegations of corruption, faculty members are not well off. Although having degrees is prestigious in terms of social status, it does not guarantee high standing in the society, especially income-wise.

Some students have international exposure and share their experiences as well as corrupt practices. Neighboring Romania is generous to offer five thousand school and university scholarships to Moldavian youth. One former student related, “I had friends who went to study in Romania and they failed. They tried to give bribes, as it is customary in Moldova, but instead they failed classes and had to return to Moldova.” Romania is a EU member and thus has to demonstrate some anti-corruption effort.

In Moldova, just about everyone has a college degree. Some say with irony that we are now the most educated country in Europe, based on the number of diplomas, but not necessarily real knowledge.

There are anti-corruption measures taken by universities. For instance, there is the Student Alliance Against Corruption at Moldova State University. The Alliance cooperates with the National Anti-Corruption Bureau. If there a student witnesses an incident of bribery, the student can report it and the Alliance will contact the National Bureau. They know how to proceed, arrange everything, catch the perpetrator red-handed, and prosecute him or her for bribery. How many of such cases have happened lately? Was there a wave of such arrests? The answers are, “No, not really. And the student can get in trouble later on for initiating an investigation. Such a student may be failed on his or her next examination session because other faculty will not want this kind of trouble or bad publicity for the university.” Apparently, the academic community does not tolerate reporting corruption well. This is also a Soviet tradition, when those who report wrongdoing are ostracized by the community.

Moldova’s demographic crisis and mass emigration takes a toll on higher education. Enrollment numbers have fallen dramatically since the 1990s. In addition to poor demographics, absenteeism amplifies the problem. This kind of absenteeism was very visible during my field trip to Moldova in June 2017. At Moldova State University, there were very few students in evidence, around two dozen, of which most were female. The campus was practically deserted. This is despite the fact that the summer examination session was in progress when even frequent no-shows were expected to show up to take examinations. Most likely, this is because male students work and have no time to come to the university. Some students who reside in one of the university dormitories work as security guards in a nearby expensive shopping mall. The shopping mall looks much more impressive than the state university.

Moldova is not an expensive country and prices for most necessities are moderate. Nevertheless, the salary that university faculty receive—$120-$200 per month—is barely enough to cover the cost of food, even if one eats in a university cafeteria. How do they survive? Conversations with students suggest faculty members hold multiple jobs and collect illicit benefits, including bribes. Students say that, “You can solve any problems with the help of money,” meaning academic problems being resolved with the help of bribes given to faculty members and administration. In addition to second and third job, bribes and gifts may constitute supplemental income. Thanks to this supplemental income, faculty members survive financially. Gift giving is usually perceived as a norm, especially if a gift is given after the examination.

Book publishing may also be good business for faculty members. Some professors sell their books and keep the record of those who bought the book and those who did not. Some respondents say that if a student does not buy this book, he or she is unlikely to pass the examination. Professors have a different (and logical) explanation. They say that only those who study the course based on their book can gain the knowledge necessary to pass the examination.

The issues found at Moldova State University may apply to other universities in the country as well as in other former Soviet republics. On the one hand, faculty and administrator misconduct is not a secret from different constituents including students and their parents. On the other hand, underpaid faculty members may have no choice but to seek different sources of supplemental income. Thus, their alleged unethical conduct can only be considered and judged in the context of the state policy toward the nation’s higher education.

 

Ararat Osipian is the Alexander Mirtchev Visiting Professor and Scholar at the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University; fellow of the Institute of International Education; and fellow of the New University in Exile Consortium, USA. He spent the month of June 2017 conducting fieldwork on higher education corruption in Moldova.

 

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