Corruption worries in SA universities

South Australia’s Independent Commission against Corruption does not get much business from the state’s three public universities, which puzzles Commissioner Ann Vanstone.

“The environment in which universities operate is conducive to corruption,” she writes in the new report of ICACs 2023 university integrity survey, adding that ICAC’s interstate equivalents have investigated universities over recruitment, procurement, student grades, timesheets and research data.

It is not as if staff of SA universities think that all is well; nearly 40 per cent of responders consider their institution is highly or extremely vulnerable to nepotism in recruitment, followed by misuse of authority (30 per cent).

Research culture is a focus of the new report. Some 19 per cent of responders working in research stated they had personally observed cases of “inappropriate” authorship and 5 per cent had seen fabrication of research data. ICAC adds, “respondents believed the pressure to publish had resulted in researchers fraudulently claiming authorship, and not crediting others with authorship to which they were entitled. This was underpinned by a power dynamic whereby more senior researchers benefited from unfair practices.”

Overall, academic integrity, relating to student work, is halfway down the list of 13 types of corruption or impropriety, with 13 per cent reporting having seen cases and 17 per cent suspecting it.  “Many respondents perceived that academic standards are dropping; students are able to cheat and plagiarise without consequences; and reports of breaches of academic integrity are deterred.”

ICAC observes managements are not seen to be training staff on corruption risks related to their role as well as they used to. In a 2020 survey, just under half agreed their university had done so, down to 34 per cent in the new report.

As for research integrity, given the absence of an external regulator, “it has been observed that uncovering research misconduct has the potential to damage an institution’s reputation with repercussions on revenue. Accordingly, institutions may be disinclined to appropriately investigate and deal with potential breaches of research integrity.”

As to what will happen next, Commissioner Vanstone points to the merger of Uni Adelaide and Uni SA,  “times of restructure or any disruption are known for generating corruption

opportunities because leadership focus may be lost and lines of accountability




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