Corporate funding, a threat to academic independence

published 18 October 2013 updated 30 October 2013

Corporate funding of universities could lead to corruption in the higher education sector. That’s according to an article by EI senior advisor David Robinson in a report launched on 1 October by Transparency International. The non-government organisation’s Global Corruption Report: Education is a comprehensive guide to corruption risks in education – from primary school to university.

The report identifies global trends of corruption in education, pinpoints challenges, and showcases the role of education and research in strengthening personal and professional integrity. It contains 70 articles by experts from more than 50 countries.

Conflict between commercial and academic valuesIn his article,“Corrupting research integrity: corporate funding and academic independence”, Robinson highlights that, while corporate funding of research remains small in absolute terms, it has increased sharply in the last two decades. Meanwhile, government-funded research has decreased significantly in both developed and developing countries.

For instance, in OECD countries, government-funded research fell on average by 10 per cent during 1981-2003, while the proportion of business sector financing doubled in the same period.

Robinson warns about the fundamental conflict between commercial values and traditional academic values and how this could threaten academic freedom. Indeed, a 2005 survey of academic researchers found that over 15 per cent of respondents had changed the design, methodology, or results of a study in response to pressures from a funding source.

“Academics must enjoy academic freedom – that is, the right to teach, research, publish and participate in the governance of the institution without restriction or censorship,” writes Robinson.

Concerns over academic ghostwritingUniversity research is also being compromised by the practice of academic ghostwriting, in which academic articles are produced and written by professional agencies contracted by corporate sponsors and then signed by a university based researcher.

This is particularly predominant in the field of therapeutic medicine, with “recent evidence suggesting that a potentially troubling number of papers may have been ghostwritten by pharmaceutical companies”, states the article.

Acting together against corruption   EI’s General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen commended the report. “From the misappropriation of education funds and bribery, to nepotism and outright fraud, Transparency International shows how corruption in our sector is hurting our students, our teachers and our communities,” he said.

“If we are to achieve the goal of education for all, then teachers, schools, governments, and international agencies must work together to identify and eliminate corruption."

To read the full Global Corruption Report: Education, a comprehensive guide to corruption risks in education – from primary school to university, please go here

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