In some developing countries informal fees are charged at all levels of education to guarantee admission, for grade advancement, to graduate, to receive higher marks, and to pass exams.
In several countries, which officially prohibit school fees, households still report payment of fees. Out of 79 countries surveyed, tuition fees were collected in 30 countries although they were only legal in 19 of them (Bentaouet Kattan and Burnett 2004).16 In China, out of 3,000 primary and 1,500 secondary schools audited in the Jiangxi province in 2003 there were 125 cases of illegally collected school fees with a value of US$2 million. At the national level, more than US$20 million in illegal school fees were collected at primary and secondary level. For the 18 higher education institutions audited, 15 per cent of all fees charged were illegal (UNDP 2008).
Citizen report cards, users’ assessment of the performance and quality of education collected through survey questionnaires can be used as a possible basis for increasing accountability of public officials, schools, and teachers if higher level officials act on the information and findings. However, in practice, it is often difficult to punish such corrupt behavior.17
A report card survey of primary education in eight subdistricts of Mymensingh district in Bangladesh conducted in 2000 showed that households were paying for a variety of education services all meant to be provided for free. 6.2 percent of respondents reported paying for admission and 5.3 percent for primary school textbooks (Karim 2004). Out of students who had passed their final examinations, 2.3 percent reported paying to be promoted to the next grade, however, this only occurred in one of the eight subdistricts (Sadar). In Bangladesh, the government does not pay for primary schools to hold examinations so instead teachers charge students; approximately 96 percent of students reported paying to sit the first term, second term, and annual examinations respectively, implying that informal payments to sit examinations are systematic.
Thus, report card surveys can be very useful in collecting information on patterns of behavior in the school system, including frequency and type of informal payments. But for the information to have any impact on performance and corruption, effective accountability mechanisms, that include the authority and means to impose sanctions, must exist. The findings from the Bangladesh study were widely disseminated but had a limited impact: after having been informed of irregularities taking place in their offices many primary subdistrict education offices introduced transparent and standard fees for examinations and, subsequently, many teachers reported that they no longer had to pay bribes to obtain services (Karim 2004).
When incentives for good performance are weak or lacking, there is little or no oversight, and accountability is non-existent, informal payments to access examination questions in advance, or to pass or receive a certain grade, can become the rule not the exception. Hallak and Poisson (2007: 231) define examination fraud as “any prescribed action taken in connection with an examination or test that attempts to gain an unfair advantage.” The practice of paying for advance test information, to pass, or for a particular grade, has serious implications. When results can be purchased, resources are allocated to students able and willing to pay instructors, which undermine education objectives and put those without funds at a disadvantage.
There is little hard evidence on the extent of informal payments for gaining access to examination questions in advance, or receiving a specific grade but anecdotal evidence suggests that these practices are widespread. At one extreme, public announcements in Georgia notified students of the payments required to pass courses (MacWilliams 2002). Focus groups consisting of secondary school students and graduates in Russia, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan, all highlighted the need to pay teachers to receive good examination marks (OSI 2006). Another stark example of cheating on examinations is provided by indirect evidence from Uttar Pradesh, India. The average annual pass rates for exams of the UP High School Exam Board over the period 1988 to 1991 ranged from 46 to 61 percent, however, when police were stationed at examination centers in 1992 to discourage cheating, the pass rate dropped to 17 percent (Kingdon and Muzammil 2003).
Perception-based surveys carried out in Bulgaria, Croatia, Moldova, and Serbia show that academic fraud involving informal payments is perceived as widespread. Roughly between 27 and 36 percent of interviewed students believe that admission scores can be changed if students are willing to pay professors. Between 35 and 45 percent think that their faculty does not follow the official admission selection process (Table 12). Survey respondents when asked, estimated the share of students who have paid to take an exam, or to receive a specific grade to be 1.5 percent in Croatia, 3.8 percent in Serbia, 6.5 percent in Bulgaria, and a high of 28 percent in Moldova (Hallak and Poisson 2007).
Table 12. Student perceptions of academic fraud selected countries
Many countries have national assessment systems but these are mostly ineffective in reducing the extent of informal payments to pass, or for specific grades, when there are no penalties for examination fraud.