Would you bribe your lecturer? A quasi-experimental study on burnout and bribery in higher education

Kristina S. Weißmüller, Lode De Waele

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Bribery is a complex and critical issue in higher education (HE), causing severe economic and societal harm. Traditionally, most scholarship on HE corruption has focused on institutional factors in developing countries and insights into the psychological and motivational factors that drive HE bribery on the micro-level mechanisms are virtually non-existent. To close this research gap, this study investigates the connection between study-related burnout and university students’ willingness to offer bribes to their lecturers to pass important exams. Conducting a vignette-based quasi-experimental replication study with 624 university students in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands we find that university students in three countries differentiate sharply between different shades of bribery and that a majority accept using emotional influence tactics to pass (failed) exams. In contrast, offering a helping hand or money (i.e., darker shades of bribery) to their lecturer was less acceptable. Study-related burnout is associated with a higher likelihood of engaging in these darker shades of bribery and students’ commitment to the public interest is but a weak factor in preventing unethical behavior. In summary, this study provides solid empirical evidence that university students are likely to use emotional influence tactics violating both the ethical codes of conduct and the formalized bureaucratic procedures of HE examination, particularly if they suffer from study-related burnout. However, the accelerating effect of burnout on bribery is conditional in that it only holds for darker shades of bribery. HE institutions may benefit from implementing the four-eye principle and from launching awareness campaigns that enable lecturers to better recognize these tactics and engage students in creating a transparent environment for testing, grading, and collaboration that is resistant to bribery.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)768-796
Number of pages29
JournalResearch in Higher Education
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Bribery
  • Burnout
  • Commitment to public interest
  • Higher education


Dive into the research topics of 'Would you bribe your lecturer? A quasi-experimental study on burnout and bribery in higher education'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this