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Corruption studies expand as academic topic, path to jobs - experts

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 13 Dec 2012 17:52 GMT
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LONDON (TrustLaw) – The study of corruption and anti-corruption as an academic topic and a subject for professional certification is increasing around the world, experts say, spurred by the greater readiness of international organisations to talk about, and tackle, the problem.

Law students can take courses in anti-corruption law, compliance officers can receive certifications that prove their expertise, prosecutors can get professional training and social science students can not only take classes but also entire graduate degrees devoted to the topic.

“I see every day new programmes stepping up, people creating masters programmes in corruption and anti-corruption,” Professor Alina Mungiu-Pippidi of Berlin’s Hertie School of Governance told TrustLaw.

“It means that there is some expectation out there that the topic will grow, that this is a cross-disciplinary topic which will get important attention and funding in the next 10 years,” Mungiu-Pippidi said.

Edith Wilson, a public affairs expert at the World Bank who specialises in anti-corruption initiatives, said she thinks the growth in the study of corruption as an academic topic is an indication of a wider phenomenon.

“The anti-corruption movement, after years of not going anywhere, is finally getting institutionalised and that is reassuring,” Wilson said. “I think you are seeing yet another manifestation of truly international engagement with anti-corruption.”


There are a number of reasons for the rise of corruption studies in academic circles, not least because the topic is now talked about openly in a way that it was not before, experts say.

“Over the last 10 to 15 years, (corruption) has become much more trendy, some would even say a sexy issue...” said Martin Kreutner, head of the International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA) in Vienna and a former Austrian anti-graft prosecutor.

While the IACA is partly funded by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), international organisations were not always so keen to become involved in anti-corruption efforts.

International institutions historically did not talk about corruption, it was considered outside their remit, said Dan Hough, a reader in politics at the UK’s University of Sussex and head of its Masters in Corruption and Governance programme.

It was not until James Wolfensohn, the then head of the World Bank, famously described corruption as a cancer in 1996 that the topic came out into the open, Hough said.

“The Wolfensohn speech was the catalyst for organisations like the World Bank, the IMF and the OECD to start taking corruption more seriously when thinking about development,” Hough said.

The shift in thinking among the international banks, the United Nations and the OECD has been so profound that not only are anti-corruption specialists hired at those organisations, but they are encouraged to share their knowledge with the public.

Pascale Dubois is in charge of deciding the appropriate punishment for companies found to have used World Bank funds corruptly. She is also an adjunct professor at Georgetown Law where she teaches a course on international anti-corruption.

“Teaching has been tremendously helpful for me to look at my own job from a distance and reassess what I do... it forces me to be on top of what goes on out there,” Dubois said. “Several of my former students work at the bank now in areas related to anti-corruption.

Academic topics rely heavily on funding to flourish and corruption is no exception.

Last year, the European Union gave anti-corruption researchers led by Mungiu-Pippidi eight million euros ($10.4 million) to investigate the factors that promote or hinder the development of effective anti-corruption policies. She said it was the largest social science grant ever disbursed by the EU.

The 24/7 media and investigative journalism in particular have also done a lot to expose corruption, Hough said. “Investigative journalism has changed the way we view corruption. There is not necessarily more of it but there is more awareness of it,” he said.

Compliance officers (many of them non-lawyers) are also looking for ways to improve their knowledge of anti-corruption procedures and also to prove their expertise in the field, said Alexandra Wrage, president of TRACE Anti-bribery Specialist Accreditation (TASA).

“These people are good at their job, they are very sophisticated but they do not have a credential, they almost certainly have a university degree but they do not have a university degree in anything relevant to what this position has evolved into,” Wrage said.

Also, as the enforcement of anti-corruption laws around the world increases, companies are willing to spend more money on securing the resources to ensure that their employees do not pay bribes.

“It is a very hot job market. In a sluggish economy, it is one of the areas where almost everybody is hiring and there is a lot of mobility and if you can take a credential with you, I think that helps as well,” Wrage said.


The short time that anti-corruption has existed as an academic topic and the fact that it is so difficult to measure corruption means that few people can point to concrete results, experts said.

“I keep comparing it with human rights, it took mankind one hundred or two hundred years to have a common standard of human rights and still they are being violated. The international anti-corruption agenda has been known internationally for only 10 to 15 years so you can’t expect Rome to be built in a day,” Kreutner said.

Hough acknowledged that increased funding for anti-corruption academics and the media focus on corruption has come with increased pressure to ‘solve corruption.’

“There is clearly no right answer to this,” Hough said. “The next thing I publish will not solve the corruption conundrum and the danger is that people expect to find solutions which they can implement and then the world will change.”

“It is not a technocratic problem... it is a long game,” he said.

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