GlaxoSmithKline faces criminal investigation for allegations of bribery…are large enterprises untouchable?

GlaxoSmithKline faces criminal investigations…

In an era where large companies control the majority of the different markets, the potential for serious crimes within such organisations are an unmeasured quantity.
When a multi-billion pound company is guilty of wrongdoing, it is often on a massive level. So are the
punishments they receive working as a deterrent?

A recent example

In 2014, GlaxoSmithKline, the UK’s largest pharmaceutical company, has come under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office regarding its sales practice in China.

This stems from officials being arrested in China for allegedly bribing hospital officials and doctors. The case has now been taken up by the SFO as a result of a UK act which is in place to dissuade such crimes.

This legislation, the Bribery Act 2010, allows UK companies to be prosecuted for bribing foreign officials. It also gives the UK government the power to prosecute for “Failure of commercial organisations to prevent bribery.”

Do these big companies recover?

Government efforts to monitor and prosecute wrongful operations in multi-national corporations are often difficult to put into practice. This is because the amount of money each company earns is enormous. Large fines don’t work as a strong deterrent and a prison sentence can only punish individuals, who are replaceable.

Another allegation of malpractice abroad for GSK occurred in 2000/2001 for which they were eventually fined $3bn in 2012 – because of the aggressive manner in which they pushed an anti-depressant drug in the US market.

Their tactics included publishing in a misleading medical journal and bribing doctors with meals and spa days.
They received a penalty of $1bn in criminal fines and $2bn in civil fines.

Yet, GSK remains a multi-billion pound institution and are being investigated once again. Did the previous punishment send a strong enough message?

Fear of repercussions

It must be time to search for alternative punishment for corporate misdeeds, especially when a financial disincentive does not seem to work.

One suggestion is to completely ban companies from trading in a designated market place. If GSK had known they faced the threat of being banned from the US in 2012, they may have been more aware of the tactics being employed by their staff.

However, large corporations often provide jobs for many across the country. They pay higher rates of tax too. So if you exclude a company of such a size from your market then you are effectively removing their input into your economy.


Economies are held together by these companies and often have free rein because governments do not want to lose their money.

If they threaten to change their headquarters to another country, those in power sit up and listen. If they protest against proposed tax increases, prime ministers change their mind. When they get an unprecedented fine, they just make more money.

Large companies hold a lot of financial power. Whilst, this shouldn’t make them untouchable, clearly it does. It is of paramount importance this philosophy doesn’t spread to smaller organisations.

Balancing university teaching with research – what is the challenge?

For an academic career to be successful, it needs to be rewarding; there has to be passion, dedication and commitment. These elements need to be concomitant with a fine balance between teaching and research. This is surely an expectation and a principle of academic life.

Publishing research material is now considered an essential academic activity for a university academic. Furthermore, for this to be effective, research output needs to make an impact and be available for assessment. However, it may be argued that as a result of this, academic performance has now become balanced on an uncertain fulcrum whereby career progression depends on research as a core element.

Has the value of academic teaching been relegated against this growing culture of research assessment? Does the balance need to be re-addressed? Involvement in research has certain rewards and incentives which can be contributory factors in tipping the balance of priority. There is the availability of grants and a greater chance of promotion and recognition. Tutors may be drawn to the elevated status which deeper academic knowledge can bring. In addition, a higher investment in teaching gives rise to a reduction of funds for other activities; conversely, spending more budget availability on research projects can be self-fulfilling or possibly result in profit.

So could universities be denigrating the role of teaching to something that is necessary – but not worthy of quite so much attention? Of course, this would be preposterous: universities depend on excelling in their teaching for funding and recognition. However, a lecturer who is engaged in academic research must also be engaged in good teaching; this should be a balanced equation.

When universities offer schemes for promotion with research as a contributory element is it surprising that younger members of teaching staff are tempted away from teaching in favour of high levels of research activity? Do the older members, for whom research was not an integral part of their early career, feel compelled to join them?

It would be more prudent to encourage older staff to take research more seriously with the aim of raising teaching standards. Similarly when excellent teaching standards are recognised, this must be linked to reward. Institutions need to think laterally about ways of attracting new investment. Separating careers into teaching or research is not conducive to academic excellence: lecturers must be involved in research in order to teach.

With the introduction of higher fees, quality of teaching will increasingly determine the choice of institution for student study. However, a reputation of excellence in teaching does not constitute an academic career. The vast majority of university lecturers do take research as a balanced part of their teaching role and this is to be applauded. However, is it not time to reassess the balance?

To conclude: choosing an academic vocation means dedication towards research assessment at a critical and intelligent level, exploration and discovery of untapped knowledge – and achievement in scholastic excellence.

The cost of research: are academics paying the price?

Senior academics are under increasing pressure to generate research funding in the higher education sector. With government investment in research still sitting well below the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) average in the UK, academics are feeling the strain and seeking alternative methods of funding. How will a change in the funding process affect the work produced by researchers? Currently, the pressure to secure funds has resulted in academics focusing on turning research into profitable business; this can boost university income and also help continuation of further studies.

The new Research Excellence Framework (REF), which will assess the quality of research in UK higher education institutions from 2015, states that institutions will now have to prove that their research has an impact outside of their own university to receive funding. In the UK alone, several large universities have already started to develop strong links with businesses to boost their income and show the government the impact of the work with economic gain. Could the marketing of higher education be positive? Interestingly, the lecturer’s trade union, the University College Union (UCU), has expressed concern at the lack of traditional funding and indicated opposition to the shift to commercial based research under the new framework.

“There is a real concern that the new system will put pressure on staff to pursue research that will be of benefit to business. 18,000 members signed our petition…which illustrates the unease and concern about this agenda,” the UCU’s policy officer for higher education, Rob Copeland, told the Guardian newspaper. ”That puts pressure on them to look elsewhere for money, whether private contracts or consultancy. I expect the pressure to go up,” added Copeland.

Alarmingly, the lack of high-status research funding has not only altered some academics methods, it may have affected their health: university counselling workers have seen a steady increase in people seeking help for mental health problems in the last few years. Recent research from the UCU shows that nearly half of academics show symptoms of psychological distress. The pressure and difficulty in securing sufficient research funding means academics will often sacrifice personal relationships or engagements to prepare proposals; failure could be hugely detrimental to their career. Many experts believe that it could be this imbalance in personal and professional life, related to the need to secure research funding, that is contributing to mental health issues.

In summary, the current research funding system certainly has room for change, particularly when stress and dissatisfaction levels seem to be running so high. University research is one of the greatest assets of the developed world; it inspires many of the discoveries, ideas and inventions which create growth and further development. It should be in a government’s interest to help universities with their research and ensure that the health of an academic is never compromised as a result of the pressure.