Corruption in Education Systems

Informal Payments in Public Schools: Determinants of Corruption Perception and Behavior in Europe

Ilona Wysmułek

PHD project, defended in 2018 with distinction at the Graduate School for Social Research, GSSR, Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences, IFIS PAN, Warsaw, Poland.

Supervisors: prof. dr. hab. Kazimierz M. Slomczynski and dr. hab Zbigniew Sawinski, IFIS PAN

This research is supported by the Mobility Grant of the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Poland at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies, The Ohio State University (1292/MOB/IV/2015/0)

Objectives and hypothesis

This project studies corruption perception and individual corruption experience of giving informal payments (as a bribe or a gift) in public schools in Europe, their relation and main determinants. The diversity of corruption in education sector between and within countries is an empirically and theoretically well documented phenomenon, however the question of why it is so still remains opened.  By now most of research deals with political ‘grand’ corruption and often omit specificity of corruption in different public sectors, as schools, hospitals or police. Despite the social significance and academic interest, the issue of corruption in public institutions, which includes both ‘grand’ and ‘petty’ corruption, is still understudied.

The objective of this study is analyzing the specificity of corruption determinants in public schools from cross-country perspective. While there are many single-country analyses of corruption experience, and some popular cross-country measures of the level of corruption perception (e.g. Corruption Perception Index), there are only few cross-country studies of corruption in the education sector that account for both ‘macro characteristics of educational systems between countries, as well as for ‘micro’ cultural and social characteristics of individuals, and their interactions. In my analysis, I identify both contextual and individual social forces that account for the variable and complex nature of the phenomenon, bridging the micro-macro gap in studies of corruption in educational sector.


In this project, I use cross-national survey data on corruption in public schools in Europe combined with country-level indicators, ex. from the World Bank Education Statistics and the OECD Education at a Glance. I follow the Survey Data Recycling (SDR) framework developed by the research team lead by prof. Kazimierz M. Slomczynski, which provides a blueprint for ex-post survey data harmonization and for integrating survey and other data sources to be used in substantive analysis.

As a part of this project, I provide an overview of existing survey data containing information on corruption experience and corruption perception, which allows for cross-national comparisons. The gathered and documented source data have a broader scope than public schools, and include survey questions on corruption generally, as well as on corruption in different public institutions. I concentrate on the data on corruption coming from European countries from 1989-2013.

The complete documentation of existent cross-national surveys featuring corruption items in Europe (1989-2013) that I collected for the purpose of the dissertation is published in the Dataverse Archive:

Based on geographical and methodological criteria, I include such cross-national surveys as Life in Transition Survey, Global Corruption Barometer, Quality of Government Survey, Crime Victims Survey, Eurobarometer, European Social Survey, International Social Survey Program, World Values Survey,  and other – a total of 895 questions on corruption dispersed in 63 survey waves of 19 cross-country survey projects. Among all 895 questions on corruption, 53 ask specifically about corruption in public school, which constitute the main basis for this research. I analyze the types of corruption-related questions, their wording and frequencies. I address the issue of the variation in quality and discuss the possibility of ex-ante harmonization of some corruption related items. I also report the exact country coverage and inequalities of representation of some European countries regarding the survey data on corruption.

As to data analysis, in order to capture the variability between countries in public school corruption and to estimate the influence of both individual and country level determinants, I use generalized hierarchical linear models and lagged multi-level modeling.

Research project impact

From the theoretical and empirical point of view, the project aims to contribute to the literature on sources of public sector corruption, quality of government and public institution and comparative education research. It has a potential to advance knowledge on cross-sector differences in sources of corruption behavior and perception, contributing to the research of the efficiency of specific education reforms. From the methodological point of view, the proposed project aims to apply and develop appropriate techniques of analyzing multilevel datasets stemming from ex-post survey data harmonization. It will contribute to developing solutions to problems of measurement comparability, data harmonization and survey quality, which are new and growing challenges in working with big datasets in different disciplines in social sciences.