Corruption, Anti-Corruption and the Power of Education

Corruption, so it often seems, is everywhere. Yet there are only very few universities that have teaching programmes that are dedicated to analysing it. The University of Sussex has been in the vanguard of trying to change that. It introduced a full-time MA in Corruption and Governance back in 2012 and a two-year part-time LLM in Corruption, Law and Governance taught out of Qatar in 2016. Analysing corruption won’t rid us of the problem overnight, but, via the students who come through these courses, it does have the potential to help coax and cajole (sometimes reluctant) rulers to change their ways.

According to the word corruption appeared 1,240 times in UK newspaper article headlines in 2015. Fraud was even more prevalent, appearing on 4,177 occasions. The word bribery, meanwhile, came up a ‘mere’ 264 times. The types of cases covered were also wide, varied and often bewildering; on one day alone in the UK in November, for example, the Independent was analysing how the Vatican was putting reporters on trial who had previously uncovered corruption cases in the Holy See. The Times was talking about an apprentice jockey who was facing a ban from horse racing on account of deliberately riding to lose whilst the Guardian was analysing FIFA’s alleged corruption problems.

Academic research in the area of corruption has also blossomed. A search in mid-2016 for the term corruption on JSTOR, the digital library of academic publications, revealed no less than 169,941 journal articles where corruption was mentioned. Fraud, meanwhile, appeared in 105,144 articles and bribery came up on 22,971 occasions. Corruption, and concepts that are closely linked to it, are on a lot of people’s minds.

Taught programmes on corruption

The widespread interest in corruption is nonetheless not replicated in taught programmes in academia. Around the world you can count on the fingers of one hand the number of universities where corruption or related topics are the subject of a whole degree programme. More places offer specific modules that look at parts of the corruption mosaic, but they are often small parts of much bigger and broader degree academic paths.

At least some of the reasons for this are (in part) understandable. Corruption is a difficult notion to pin down. Tricky methodological challenges need to be overcome. Corruption is inherently interdisciplinary in nature, yet, despite much high-minded rhetoric, university programmes tend to remain avowedly disciplinary in focus. Finally, and less understandably, corruption has also often been understood as nothing more than a marginal problem.

Rather than shirk these challenges, the University of Sussex has chosen to rise to them. The take up on the MA launched in 2012 has been encouraging, and this prompted Qatar’s Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption Centre (ROLACC) to approach Sussex about launching a programme in the Gulf Region looking at similar questions. The product of that is a course that analyses how the rule of law can and must be at the centre of anti-corruption thinking, but also how other related but different concepts play key roles.

Getting governance right, for example, is vital in setting the groundwork for tackling corruption. Indeed, it is often work done in other, interrelated areas that is most vital. Hardwire in processes of both transparency and accountability across the whole bureaucratic machine and you will choke the oxygen out of corruption’s lungs.

Coaxing and Cajoling

The key contribution that programmes such as Sussex’s MA and LLM make is not of revealing the golden bullets that will help kill the corruption beast. If it were that easy, there would be no need for corruption and anti-corruption courses at all. It’d be a simple case of ticking off boxes on a technocratic check-list.

The role that education plays is to help students think about core concepts that academic research has revealed to be important. Transparency and accountability are just two of these, but how they translate into policy will naturally be determined by the structures on the ground. Successful anti-corruption tools can and do take on different forms in different places.

The job of Sussex’s graduates, from both the UK and Qatar, is to use the skills and knowledge they have acquired to evaluate what needs to be done in each given setting. Based on what they have learned, they need to have the confidence to use their judgement to coax and cajole those who are reticent to reform of the merits of their particular case. The great value of education is that it empowers citizens to think, to evaluate and to act. In terms of a global challenge such as corruption, there clearly is plenty for Sussex’s students to begin acting on.


Dan Hough

University of Sussex



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s