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The purpose of this review is to provide examples and experience of how others in this sector have reduced the damaging impact of corruption. The sector-specific information is relevant for politicians, leaders, managers, civic groups, company executives and others. We hope it will bring both knowledge and inspiration.



Read the whole review below. Or jump to any section using the main headings below and the sidebar on the left. Or download a complete copy of this sector review as a pdf document to read separately. Note that Higher Education is reviewed separately, here.

  1. Corruption issues in education
  2. Reforms in education
  3. Developing an overall approach
  4. Transnational educational initiatives
  5. Ask & Connect
  6. Reading and bibliography


School education is a vulnerable sector, in both developing countries and developed countries. The graphs opposite show the corruption in education across 27 countries from the Global Corruption Report – Education by Transparency International 2013. This data shows considerable corruption in developed nations as well as in developing countries – the chart opposite also features OECD countries such as Greece, USA, Germany and UK.

Large amounts of money are involved, typically 20% of public sector expenditure, and it is one of the largest government employers. And, because of the dependence of the students and parents on the teachers and the educational authorities for the educational success of their children, it can be far more painful than to resist a request for a bribe or to complain about nepotism in such a setting than to submit.


The originating author of this review is Mark Pyman, who is the managing editor of CurbingCorruption. Additional contributions have been made by Ian Kaplan.

1. Corruption issues in education

FOCUS on the specific corruption issues - Guidance summary

Your analysis is likely to start from and understanding of the different types of corruption that exist in your area of responsibility, or across the education sector. The corruption in your system won’t be exactly the same as in this list of specific issues below (called a typology), but it’s a good place to start.

1.1 Education corruption typology

Here is the typology that we recommend you use as the starting point of your analysis. From this you can remove the insignificant or irrelevant ones, or add others. start with. It identifies 36 different corruption types in education across six categories:


This typology dates from 2017, when it was developed by Mark Pyman as a synthesis from other typologies so that it could be applied to a whole national education system. It then formed part of a large analysis of the entire school education system in Afghanistan. Despite the severity of the corruption issues in that country, the typology itself closely resembles those of less corrupt countries.  That report had a significant t impact in catalysing change in Afghanistan’s Education Ministry and you can read that Afghanistan report here.

There is a second way that you can structure the corruption issues – to group them underneath OECD’s six building blocks of an education system. This may be useful if you are working with large institutional bodies such as OECD. Here is how it would look:

  1. Teachers: e.g. nepotism in appointments and postings, paying to postpone retirement, payment for licenses.
  2. Quality of learning environment: e.g. schools not properly built, schools used for private purposes, duress payments for private tutoring, expert-bias in complaints and disciplinary procedures, human rights and related discrimination against certain groups.
  3. Assessment: e.g. bribery to obtain school places, for good exam results or to obtain exam certificates.
  4. Funding: e.g. school funding diverted by principals, stealing from grants, corruption in contracting, artificially high prices for textbooks or school equipment or school food.
  5. Provision of education: e.g. certain provinces/locations favoured for funding or better education, excessive curriculum leading to cheating to pass students through exams.
  6. Governance & system management: e.g. poor or constrained EMIS, tolerance of fraud and waste, poor controls, lack of independent control capabilities, e.g. on education quality, minimal public communication about performance and choices.

If you want to look in more depth, several other education-corruption typologies have been developed over the years, mostly by international development organisations. They start from the early work of Poisson and Hallak (2007) of UNESCO Corrupt schools, corrupt universities: what can be done?

Other education typologies you can look at

Sexual exploitation in education is also a corruption issue. It is very much within the usual definition of corruption as ‘abuse of office for private gain’. Exchanging school entrance, exam results, certificates and so forth for sex is a common problem. A study of sexual violence in Botswana, for example,  revealed that 67% of girls reported sexual harassment by teachers, 11% of the girls surveyed seriously considered dropping out of school due to harassment, despite the fact that Botswana provides 10 years of free education, and 10% consented to sexual relations for fear of reprisals on grades and performance records (See Meier 2004, Corruption in the Education Sector: An Introduction, p7).

1.2 Gathering data

Internationally, the graph at the beginning of this review gave you an overview. Read more

1.3 Doing your own analysis

Our listing of education corruption types is the starting point, but it needs now to be adapted to your own situation: there may be different corruption types, some may be very common or uncommon, and the seriousness of the issues will vary from context to context.

Do an informal analysis. Your own staff are usually well aware of the corruption issues. You can ask a group of them to develop the spectrum of the problems and their relative importance. They can use some of the guidance available in this website. You may have specialist groups in your organisation with extra knowledge, like internal audit and educational quality audit groups: use them, bring them into this discussion. External groups often have relevant knowledge, e.g. civil society groups, school boards, school communities: again, use them and involve them.

Commission a formal analysisIn large initiatives, you are likely to want a full analysis of the corruption issues across the parts of the education system under study. There are techniques such as Vulnerability to Corruption Analysis, Public expenditure tracking surveys, Quantitative Service Delivery Surveys and others that are more community based, such as Citizen report cards. You can read more about the techniques available on the CurbingCorruption website here.

There are likely to be good groups in your country who can do such a diagnosis of corruption vulnerabilities in your Ministry: commission one of them. Or, seek out education corruption expertise, either locally or internationally; such as from IIEP-UNESCO, U4, OECD or Transparency International, (See Section 4 below) and ask their advice/help/effort.

Obtain annual data by adding questions into existing surveys. Looking further ahead, most governments commission annual opinion surveys from citizens on a multitude of issues. You could arrange with whoever organises these in your country to add questions on corruption in education. Questions to ask include: what are the specific corruption problems in your education system? How common is each one? How serious is each one (for education outcome, for cost, for public trust, etc)? How are the corruption levels changing over time?

Example – Serbia. Here for example, is a national survey result on corruption in education from Serbia (OECD, 2011). Besides ‘perceptions’ data, such countries also survey the real experience of citizens, usually expressed as how many times that they had paid a bribe in each month.

1.4 Politics, power and Political Economy Analysis (PEA)

Regarding the factors driving the corruption in education, you and your colleagues are likely to know the political and power context. It is worthwhile considering this more formally. Who is gaining from each corruption type and why?  Who might gain, who might lose from reducing corruption in this specific area? For each corruption type, who are your supporters are and who are the possible spoilers.

You can find guidance on doing a PEA on the CurbingCorruption website here Such a ‘Political Economy Analysis’  lays out these issues in a structured way and help when you come to see what to focus on your strategy. These political angles to the strategy are discussed further in Section 3 below. There is lots of guidance on how to do these.

2. Reforms and reform approaches

Specific Reform Measures - guidance summary

2.1 Functional reforms in education

There are likely to be multiple institutional initiatives and reforms going on at any one time to improve educational quality and delivery in a national education system. The work of improving student outcomes is the ‘core business’ of an education system, and the corruption aspect will only be one element of this. This is a large category and there are usually more reform measures in this category than you can accommodate. The question is one of prioritising, using criteria such as relative impact, political opposition, or the risk of slow implementation.

Measures you can consider, with examples:

2.1.1 Institutional, system & process improvement – pedagogical

2.1.2 Institutional, system & process improvement – administrative and financial

2.1.3 Improved MIS and technology

2.1.4 Organisation reform of the Ministry

2.2 People-centred reforms in education

‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has’. The truth of this famous quote, by the American anthropologist Margaret Mead, is confirmed in the anti-corruption sphere by recent research.

Measures you can consider, with examples:

2.2.1 Your leadership

2.2.2 Building committed supporters

2.2.3 Tackling problems collaboratively with company executives

2.2.4 Enlisting pressure from the international community

For more guidance on people-centred reforms generally, see Specific Reform Measures on the website.

2.3 Monitoring reforms in education

Independent scrutiny is key to reducing corruption. Sometimes, for exactly this reason, independent scrutiny bodies are under-resourced, or populated with low-grade staff, or denied access to key people and records, bribed or threatened, and otherwise marginalised. Finding ways to get multiple forms of scrutiny into effect, both internal and independent, is a core part of  anti-corruption strategies.

Measures you can consider, with examples:

2.3.1 External and Independent monitoring

2.3.2 Establishing a Commission of Inquiry

2.3.3 Focused audits and reviews

2.3.4 Stronger professional education agencies

For more guidance on monitoring reforms generally, see Specific Reform Measures on the website.

2.4 Justice and Rule of Law reforms in education

In low corruption environments, criminal investigation and prosecution of corruption is a normal, periodic part of professional life. Sadly, this is the exception rather than the norm. Nonetheless, even in environments where mainstream courts are slow and risky, speaking out and putting senior individuals under investigation can change the culture.

Equally, you can change the organisation dynamics if you make it clear that sanctions or disciplinary action will definitely be taken. Often such sanctions do exist but have fallen out of use or have been taken over by special interest groups. In this case you have first to reclaim the proper functioning of these disciplinary mechanism, but that is much easier than trying to engage with the judicial processes.

Measures you can consider, with examples:

2.4.1 Prosecution, discipline, sanctions and penalties

2.4.2 Changes to policy

2.5 Transparency reforms in education

Along with independent review and monitoring, transparency is an important tool in reducing corruption. Corruption problems naturally thrive when the relevant data is not going to be made public. Transparency is an easy word to say – it is almost ‘motherhood’ – but if you find the right way to use it – or the right information that needs to be made transparent – and you can do it in a way that people recognise, then the impact can be substantial. The most famous example is an education one, in Uganda:

Impact of transparency on budgets reaching schools in Uganda. From the World Bank Institute (See Reinikka and Smith 2004)

Example: Uganda (2004). This is perhaps the most well-known data transparency example of them all. The following text from the World Bank: ‘Uganda is a good and frequently given example of a country that successfully closed a window of major corruption opportunity in its education system by boosting transparency. A Public Expenditure Tracking Survey (PETS) carried out in 1996 revealed that only 13 percent of the central grant for education actually reached the schools; 87 percent of it was captured by corrupt officials at the district level, leaving 73 percent of all schools in the country with less than 5 percent of the intended funds. As schools had no information on the amount of funding they were entitled to, and the central tier of governance did not verify the use of funds, these actions remained unchallenged. At the core of policy changes triggered by this dramatic finding was a massive information campaign in which authorities started to publish and broad- cast information on intergovernmental transfers of public funds and requested schools to publicly post information on their financial inflows. A follow-up study estimated that the campaign led to as much as a 75 percent improvement: between 1995 and 2001, the leakage of capitation grants to schools fell from 80 percent to 20 percent.’ (Reinikka & Smith 2004; See also World Bank Development Report 2004, p63, Figure 2).

Things, however, are never quite as good as they seem. If you want to read more about this reform and the effect of other contextual factors, see Hubbard 2007).

Example: Colombia (2005). In order to improve transparency, it is indispensable for policy-makers to review the different standards applied to financial, human, and material resource management. For example, the city of Bogotá in Colombia acted on school staffing procedures by publishing specific descriptions of staff recruitment procedures, postings, and transfer standards. is measure boosted school enrolments by more than one third, with only a limited number of extra teachers taken on due to the gains in efficiency that were made (Peña & Rodriguez, 2005, quoted by Poisson 2010).

2.6 Integrity reforms in education

Reducing corruption is as much about establishing a strong integrity framework among public officials and the population as it is about directly addressing corruption. The norms of almost all societies and of all religions include acting with integrity. However much this may seem to be overly optimistic, it strikes a strong chord of emotion and pride in people, especially within service organisations like teaching.

Measures you can consider, with examples:

2.6.1 Improving the integrity of teachers and officials

2.6.2 Awareness, education and capacity development

2.6.3 Insert anti-corruption directly in the school curriculum

For more guidance on integrity reforms generally, see  Specific Reform Measures on the website.

2.7 Whistleblowing reforms in education

Most large bureaucracies have mechanisms for complaints and or whistle-blowers.  At the same time, these mechanisms are usually weak and may exist on paper only. Yet these mechanisms are vital in identifying and calling out corruption: the challenge is to find a way to make them effective. Civil society has shown many ways in which it can be a more honest and independent way of checking performance and/or being a trusted place that complainants speak with.

We do not have examples of whistleblowing reforms against corruption in education. Tell us if you have examples via

2.8 Civil society and media reforms in education

At local level, you have much opportunity to enlist citizens for change, or to be pushed forward by citizens who are determined to achieve change. Parents committees in schools are can be one of  the most powerful forms of civic society for change in education.

Involving both parent groups and civil society is likely to be worthwhile. Involving them right at the beginning builds ownership, as well as gaining input on the design and planning of the initiative. They can be one of the best ways to monitor the impact, as well as being part of the governance of the initiative, and of related policy-making.

Measures you can consider, with examples:

2.8.1 Reform through parent committees

2.8.2 Citizen Report Cards

3. Developing the overall approach

Political & Tactical Approaches - Guidance summary

We are not aware of publicly available examples of education anti-corruption strategies. Tell us if you know of any at

4. Transnational educational initiatives

Transnational initiatives - Guidance summary

There are no transnational anti-corruption initiatives that we are aware of in school education. There are, nonetheless, calls for such initiative, such as Why we have to reimagine education to fight corruption, by the NGO Accountability Lab 2017.

There is one organisation that has a group dedicated to good governance and integrity in education, the International Institute for Educational Planning at UNESCO in Paris, in place since 2001. IIEP-UNESCO provides support to countries that are in the process of launching public expenditure tracking surveys, report cards, and audits, or who are conducting an integrity assessment of their education sector. They also carry out research projects and activities to document successful strategies to promote transparency and accountability in a variety of educational planning/management domains. The IIEP Ethics and Corruption in Education Programme develops an understanding of how to reshape educational planning by considering transparency and accountability concerns. They have a comprehensive web-based resource platform, ETICO, with various resources on the issue of ethics and corruption in education, including higher education. For example, in Addressing Plagiarism.

They suggest six different categories of reform measures, from Poisson (2010):

  • Transparency of standards and procedures
  • Capacity building and management automation
  • Outsourcing of management and verification processes
  • Teacher codes of conduct
  • The right to information
  • Concerted action using multiple approaches

The mission of their governance and accountability group, according to their website, is: Good governance is regarded today as a major prerequisite for improving effectiveness and efficiency in service delivery and for meeting the needs of the poorest… Since launching its programme on Ethics and corruption in Education in 2001, IIEP has drawn invaluable insights into the importance of a sectoral approach for diagnosing risks and formulating relevant measures. Integrity planning has emerged as a path for assessing the possible risks of corruption and addressing issues of transparency and accountability. In the next years, IIEP will build an evidence base for the most critical and effective use of open education data for improving integrity planning in education.’

Do contact them via their website ETICO or via

U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, Norway

U4 is a resource centre set up by Development Agencies to do independent research on corruption issues in developing countries. As they say in their website We share research and evidence to help international development actors get sustainable results. You can contact them at

The Norwegian-based expert resource centre ‘U4’ has written on tackling corruption in education. You can see their education typology in Section 1.1 (within ‘Other typologies’) and their reform measures below.

Education reform measures from U4 (2006)

World Bank, Development agencies, UNODC, UNDP

5. Ask & Connect

Contacting others really helps because corruption is a tough problem, with no ‘manual’ of how to go about tackling it. It is not just a ‘nice thing’ to do.

We find that others working in their sector round the world – whether it be a very public sector like health or a more private sector one like telecommunications – are open to being contacted and happy to respond. People everywhere really hate corruption, and this is why you’ll find lots of support for your reform ideas.

Professionals in each sector know that much of the corruption reform available guidance is generic, in reports or in the form of technical advice from institutions. They’ll be happy to get down to sector level actions, where the real impact of corruption issues is usually seen.

Here’s what we suggest:

  1. Ask us. We may be able to offer ideas and/or point you to relevant examples. Just contact us directly at
  2. Get in touch with the people at the transnational organisations outlined in Section 4 of each of the sector reviews. Ask them for their help and input.
  3. Ask other readers and followers of CurbingCorruption: Use the Twitter and Linkedin buttons below or on the top of the home page.
  4. Contact the authors of any of the articles and references that we cite.  Our experience is that they are happy to respond to questions.

Contacting others also has a second benefit. Most of us who are involved in efforts against corruption, whatever their country or sector, are nervous of whether our anti-corruption ideas are plausible. Officials are aware they have no deep knowledge of how to tackle corruption and have less time to spend on this than they would like; so they are lacking in confidence. The best way to gain confidence is to talk with other people who also understand the problems in your sector.

Reading and Bibliography

Additional reading

If you want to read more external reports, we suggest the following:

  1. UNDP (2011) Fighting corruption in the education sector: methods, tools and good practices.
  2. Poisson, Muriel (2010) Corruption and Education
  3. Transparency International (2013) Global Corruption Report – Education
  4. World Bank (2013) Fighting Corruption in Education: A Call for Sector Integrity Standards
  5. Selic and Vujovic (2009) Policy for fighting against corruption in education
  6. Afghanistan Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (‘MEC’) (2017) Analysis of corruption vulnerabilities across the Afghan school education system
  7. Hallak and Poisson (2007) Corrupt schools, corrupt universities: What can be done?
  8. OECD (2013) Strengthening integrity and fighting corruption in Education: Serbia
  9. Sahlberg (2009) International organisations in fighting education corruption
  10. U4 (2006) Corruption in the education sector

If you want to read more guidance on making anti-corruption strategies:

  1. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2015). The United Nations Convention against Corruption National Anti-Corruption Strategies: A Practical Guide for Development and Implementation
  2. Pyman et al (2017) Research comparing 41 national anti-corruption strategies; insights and guidance for leaders


Education review: Full bibliography



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