Safeguarding HE integrity needs commitment from all actors

Integrity in higher education is vital if we want to boost education quality. A recent plenary discussed a broad range of issues affecting integrity, including: the impact of artificial intelligence on higher education; the need for more data and research on education fraud; the role of students; data protection; legislation, practices and instruments to counter fraud in education; and the protection of whistleblowers.

Representatives from 35 European countries, plus 11 organisations and expert observers, gathered in Paris on 14 and 15 November for the seventh plenary of ETINED, the platform of the Council of Europe on Ethics, Transparency and Integrity in Education.

A key principle of the ETINED platform, that quality education can only be achieved, and corruption effectively addressed, if all relevant sectors of society commit fully to fundamental positive ethical principles for public and professional life, was reaffirmed and framed in the light of the Council of Europe’s Education Strategy 2024-2030, “Learners First – Education for today’s and tomorrow’s democratic societies”, which was endorsed at the 26th session of the Standing Conference of Ministers of Education held in Strasbourg at the end of September 2023.

In addition to promoting the role of integrity in boosting education quality, the strategy also includes a commitment to building a culture of trust by promoting ethics, mutual respect and accountability among all actors in education, and by preventing education fraud.

Sharing good practice

Since 2015, the ETINED platform has been working to share good practice in the field of transparency and integrity in education to define guidelines on the subject and to develop the capacity of all actors.

One of the outcomes of the work carried out so far is the recommendation on countering education fraud adopted by the Council of Europe in July 2022.

The text of the recommendation, adopted in French and English, has already been translated into Dutch, Georgian, Hungarian and Italian, and a draft glossary based on the recommendation was also presented at the ETINED plenary and will be soon available on the ETINED website.

At the plenary, there was a presentation about the book, Means to Counter Education Fraud: Legislation, practices and instrument. It will be published by the end of the year on the ETINED website.

The publication, Volume 7 in the ETINED series, provides an overview of the legal responses to education fraud and case law on education fraud.

In addition to the legal perspective, the book contains analyses of the role of the ENIC-NARIC networks – the networks of national information centres on recognition in the European region – in countering diploma mills, the role of codes of ethics in building a culture of ethics and integrity in higher education, and the impact of digitalisation when it comes to countering fraud. The final chapter is dedicated to how assessment design can reduce the risk of education fraud.

AI and fraud

The possible implications of artificial intelligence in education, the Council of Europe’s perspective on regulating artificial intelligence in education and reflections on a possible Framework Convention on Artificial Intelligence, Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law (thanks to the work of the Council of Europe Committee on Artificial Intelligence) were discussed.

In line with the Education Strategy 2024-2030, “Learners First”, students were at the centre of the debate: the European Student Union presented its resolution on AI advances and its impact on higher education, and the launch of a survey targeting student awareness of the phenomenon was also discussed.

The survey, promoted by the Council of Europe, is based on the experience of research carried out in the framework of the Erasmus+ project FraudS+ which resulted in the publication of the “Knowledge and awareness of fraud in education: a student perspective” pamphlet.

The survey is aimed at exploring student awareness of education fraud, in particular in relation to the principles set out in the recommendation: the use of new technologies, the links with quality education and the economic impact of education fraud.

It will be targeted at students in the final year of upper secondary school and higher education institutions from ETINED countries.

Furthermore, the ETINED plenary strongly supported the creation of an observatory at the international level to counter education fraud and act as a monitoring body for the measures in place to address the phenomenon as well as collecting data to illustrate education fraud-related phenomena.

This is in line with the Council of Europe’s Education Strategy 2024-2030 which seeks to “encourage and strengthen the prevention and monitoring of education fraud, including through data collection and comparative analysis”.

Combatting education fraud was also one of the priorities of the new Council of Europe grants scheme which supports implementation of the Lisbon Recognition Convention. It was adopted in 2022 and the results of the related DETECT project were presented.

In addition, the plenary was an occasion to share updates on developments and activities carried out by different actors and networks active in the field, such as the work on ethics, integrity and data protection carried out by the French Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL), the research project on Open School Data of the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning, UNESCO guidance for generative AI in education and research, updates from the latest conference on Ethics and Integrity in Academia of the European Network for Academic Integrity (ENAI) and the recent Handbook on Whistleblower Protection in Research published by the European Network of Research Integrity Offices (ENRIO).

The way forward

The conference was also an opportunity to define the way forward for the work of the ETINED platform along key action lines.

These include: supporting the implementation of the recommendation on countering education fraud through awareness-raising, training and capacity building and stakeholder engagement; following up on actions related to the monitoring of fraud and supporting ethics in education and continuing the discussion on the establishment of an observatory on education fraud through a feasibility study, consultation and review of national policies; and continuing activities focused on supporting transparency in education including, but not limited to, projects on open data, the impact of AI and the protection of the rights of students in the digital space.

Villano Qiriazi is head of the education department at the Council of Europe; Luca Lantero is president of the Lisbon Recognition Convention Committee and Italian representative in the ETINED platform; and Chiara Finocchietti is an expert in the ETINED working group on education fraud and director of CIMEA, the Italian ENIC-NARIC centre.