Oxford University Press has said it will continue its education business in East Africa, despite having to pay out £1.9m to the Serious Fraud Office and $500,000 to the World Bank this week in settlement for misconduct over tenders for education projects in the region.
Wholly owned subsidiaries OUP East Africa and OUP Tanzania were also debarred from World Bank projects for three years. In addition, OUP announced a £2m donation to teacher training organisations in Africa.
OUP said it had “strengthened our management in the region” following the SFO and World Bank investigations and that it was “taking appropriate disciplinary action in respect of those involved in this conduct.”
However, business would continue, a spokesperson said. “OUP’s mission is to further research, scholarship and education by publishing and disseminating high quality resources across the world. For that reason, it is important that we continue to operate as internationally as possible; to stop operating in East Africa would fundamentally undermine our ability to reach millions of people, in particular school children, who rely on access to excellent educational resources in order to progress their own education and ultimately life opportunities.”
Macmillan, which paid £11.3m in a similar settlement last year, has since closed its in-country education business in east and west Africa.
Oxford University Press was approached about irregularities in tender payments by investigators from the World Bank’s Integrity Vice- Presidency in May 2011 and immediately launched a “comprehensive and detailed” investigation. In November 2011 the publisher also voluntarily reported to the SFO concerns over contracts entered into by its Kenyan and Tanzanian subsidiaries between 2007–10.
Mark Surguy, partner at international law firm Eversheds, commented: "The contracting practices of the educational publishing sector have been the subject of scrutiny by the World Bank and the SFO for a number of years. The culture of doing business in Africa presents considerable challenges for UK-based companies doing business there. In the education sector, interaction with public officials makes the risk that much greater."