Report uncovers HE bribes system

March 3, 2000

TBILISI

Widespread corruption is one of the biggest obstacles to reform in Georgia, according to a World Bank report on university education in the former Soviet republic.

A survey carried out at Tbilisi State University, the State Technical University and Agrarian University, found that students wishing to enter universities and other higher education institutions are expected to pay bribes of up to 40,000 lari (Pounds 1,250) to corrupt officials for popular courses such as law or economics.

More than 450 academics, administrators and staff were questioned in detail about the funding, performance, quality and relevance of university education in Georgia. Few of those questioned denied the existence of corruption.

Students who had failed an exam could gain the necessary pass mark by paying a bribe. Pressure to buy textbooks written by course lecturers was also common, the report found.

The report suggested that tolerance of corruption by university leaders and a lack of rigorous safeguards in financial record keeping were largely to blame.

The quality of the entire university system in Georgia is "compromised by corruption" and active legislative steps are needed to draw up measures to combat the rot, said the report's author, Jo Lorentzen, who is a consultant at the World Bank.

"Universities in this country would be in a much better shape if the money that is spent on corruption was used to improve buildings and curricula in the university sector," he added.

Ministers and university rectors at a recent meeting in Georgia to discuss donor cooperation, which included delegates from the World Bank, United Nations Development Programme, Council of Europe and other European agencies, were quick to react.

A senior Georgian academic said corruption was everywhere in Georgia and universities were not immune. Some universities are, however, taking steps to tackle the problem with clearly published tuition fees and exam charges.

Alexander Kartozia, minister of education, said that although it was not pleasant to hear such a damning report on his country's universities, he was determined to stamp out corruption.

"We must discuss how to tackle corruption, and nobody here refutes the recommendations given in the World Bank report," he said.

Markku Junkkari, the European Training Foundation's head of department for the Caucasus and Central Asia, said: "Corruption within Georgia's university system should be put into context. Professors typically earn a salary of $20-$30 a month, a sum clearly inadequate for ensuring even the most basic standard of living.

"This is clearly the root cause of the problem. But simply raising tuition fees and therefore salaries is also problematic. To set them at a realistic level would bar most Georgians from pursuing higher education.

"This vicious circle is unlikely to be resolved without a significant improvement in the economy and academic incomes."

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