Bamako — A government report has revealed widespread fraud and bribery among high-level professors at universities in Mali and degrees awarded in exchange for cash.
The general auditor's report issued on May 14 alleges financial mismanagement involving billions in public money, including management irregularities at the University of Bamako between 2010 and 2012 that it said cost the public treasury 2.4 billion CFA ($3.66 million) of which nearly one quarter of the losses were due to fraud.
The findings have left students concerned that corruption will undermine the value of their degrees and make it harder for them to get jobs in a competitive global marketplace.
"It puts at risk our future careers," said Amadou Maiga, 23, a student activist at the Bamako University of Social Science and Management. He said he feels ashamed of his education compared with other universities in West Africa.
"In this university if you have money, 100 000 or 200 000 CFA ($200-$300), you won't fail the exams. Everyone knows that," he said while sitting under a tree with his friends near parking lot for motorbikes.
"I know some students who used to be informed about the exam results before they were officially published. It's clear that those who informed them are professors who received money," he said.
According to Maiga, 2,000 of the 40,000 students enrolled in the schools of law and political science have been for allegedly bribing university officials.
Fraud is so widespread and well known at universities in Mali that some graduates are treated with suspicion when they enter the workplace, students said.
"They were delivering degree certificates on which the signatures were scanned, and some students had problems with that. A friend of mine failed to get into a training programme because of one of those scanned degrees, as the boss thought it was a false document," said Moussa Sangare, another student at the Bamako University of Social Science and Management in talking about practices at his school.
The general auditor said that the professors who are involved in fraud are known to his office and their cases will be transmitted to a public prosecutor in charge of investigating financial crimes. In one example of fraud cited in the report, an invoice was submitted for a bag of cement for $70 (35, 000 CFA fancs) instead of its actual cost of $15 dollars.
Between 2010 and 2012, the University of Bamako, which has since been divided into four universities, received about $220 million each year in budget subsidies from the government. Despite this assistance, there was significant mismanagement of funds, fraud and lack of internal controls, according to auditors.
Meanwhile, the universities face infrastructure problems.
"We are 2,500 students who gather in a tiny amphitheater of 1,500 places. Given that there are hundreds of broken tables, it is just a few of the students who can find seats," said Sangare.
Mountaga Tall, the minister in charge of the universities, has promised reforms, and his office said there will be no impunity.
"The government is already working to change things, and those who are involved in the alleged frauds won't be protected at all," said Dramane Keïta, an official of the Ministry of Advanced Education.
But so far the government has yet to take action to address corruption.
Recently, the government created a national committee to report back on educational reforms for Mali. According to Keïta, more money needs to be invested and changes made in order to raise the educational standards in Mali to the level of neighboring countries.
The University of Bamako officials declined to comment on the auditor's report. Abdou Malle, the head of scholars' union, said only a few people are involved in the alleged bribery, and the solution is for the government to improve the pay and living conditions of professors.
For students, their primary concern is how the corruption in Mali's universities will impair their ability to compete in today's globalized marketplace. "Our future is compromised; we are a sacrificed generation -- that's all! Many have finished studying, but they cannot get their degrees" due to the scanned signatures, said Maiga.