ICAC warns: “opportunities for corruption” in SA uni cultures    

The Independent Commissioner Against Corruption surveyed staff of the three public universities about integrity. The takeout for management isn’t great

Where this came from: In March ICAC announced an “integrity inquiry” into the universities – not an investigation into anything specific. The three VCs urged staff to participate in an anonymous survey (CMM March 17).

What ICAC found: The results of surveys and feedback, “identify areas of weakness, tension and risk that could provide opportunities for corruption,” Commissioner Ann Vanstone reports.

“The tension described by respondents between ensuring financial sustainability and maintaining standards of education, research and student intake may provide numerous opportunities and pressures for corrupt or inappropriate conduct. Those risks must be explored and effectively managed,” she warns.

And staff aren’t confident that uni leaderships are on the case.

“Some managers were praised as being highly effective, but the majority of comments were negative, particularly complaining of management disinterest in staff problems, immunity from criticism, freedom to engage in wrongdoing, and tightening control over behaviour and dissent.”

Specific issues reported include;

* 63 per cent of survey respondents “had encountered” bullying/harassment

* 39.5 per cent state their institution is “vulnerable” to corruption / inappropriate conduct

* “significant proportions of the university workforce felt intimidated to report and / or concerned about the consequences of reporting. Four out of ten respondents stated they would be worried about their job if they reported”

* “a sense that teaching staff are under pressure to ensure students, and their fees, were retained. … Some described this specifically as being related to keeping international fee-paying students happy and enrolled”

* staff reporting, “diverse problems within research activity, such as inappropriate authorship, questionable data, poor supervision etc” and “potential problems with funding applications and use of research funds”

* “some evidence,” that “compliance with policies is a problem in situations related to grading and student enrolment, as well as among ‘high achieving’ or ‘valuable’ staff. Such staff were seen to be held to less demanding standard.”

Which means universities are at risk: The integrity of any organisation is framed by the attitudes and experiences of its staff. Organisations that struggle to listen to their employees, or to call out impropriety or to take effective action against improper conduct are at a heightened risk of corruption”

To which the three unis respond:  Uni Adelaide Interim VC Mike Brooks reminds staff that a policy and procedure review is already underway, “following ICAC’s public statement into the actions of our former vice-chancellor”.

“The survey findings provide us with a further opportunity to identify improvements to our culture, behaviours and processes.”

David Lloyd says Uni SA “will openly interrogate the effectiveness of existing processes to assure integrity in our operations. “

And from Flinders U, Colin Stirling says the university, will “examine the report carefully” and “continue its on-going staff development programme designed to raise awareness in recognising, preventing and reporting serious issues.”