Morality before money

PUBLISHED : Friday, 31 December, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 31 December, 1993, 12:00am

MOST people have a rosy view of our universities and polytechnics as centres of careful teaching, sober research and the earnest pursuit of knowledge. At worst, they may suspect an ivory tower remoteness from the real world in which the rest of us have to make a living. But fraud, abuse of copyright and systematic deception are not the sort of behaviour they normally associates with academics or the institutions they adorn.

It therefore comes as a shock to learn that staff at Hong Kong Polytechnic's Centre for Professional and Business English had passed off publicly available material as specially designed company-specific courses, illegally sold course material to the Mass Transit Railway Corporation which belonged to Hongkong Bank and illegally photocopied textbooks.

It must be hoped such cynicism is not widespread. The fraud has not only damaged the reputation and credibility of our tertiary institutions, and cost the polytechnic - possibly also the taxpayer - hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation, but also revealed a deeper malaise within the academic community which must be cured by a radical rethink of priorities.

Universities around the world are being told to cut costs and come up with revenue-generating schemes that will lessen the burden of tertiary education on the public purse. Such pressures can lead to the cutting of corners and commercialism. How far suchchanges are beneficial to higher education remains to be seen. But when staff are expected to generate revenue before they have had time to generate material and profitability takes precedence over academic integrity, then the time has come to stop the rot.