CAIRO—A Sudanese university wants to set up a network among Arab universities to stop students accused of plagiarism from moving from institution to institution.
The university’s suggestion echoes recommendations by other Arab academics that they will have to get serious about policing plagiarism if they are going to successfully educate a new generation of researchers.
Esam al-Din Adam, dean of the College of Graduate Studies of Omdurman Islamic University, in Sudan, announced that goal last month in response to an incident in which 10 students were found to have plagiarized.
The university took any degrees it had awarded to the accused students away from them and banned them from applying to any programs at the university, according to a report in the Sudanese newspaper, Almeghar Alsyasy.
The university says it will also design a computer program that will work in 24 languages to detect plagiarized research.
In addition, the university will ask every student seeking an advanced degree to sign an agreement that they will lose any degree earned if they are found guilty later of plagiarism.
Magdi Tawfik Abdelhamid, a research professor at Cairo’s National Research Centre, welcomed the anti-plagiarism measures saying “It is an ideal example for other Arab universities to follow in order to combat this bad ‘cut and paste’ academic behavior.”
Abdelhamid called for “not putting the problem of academic plagiarism under the carpet as it always happens but facing it openly at both local and Arab levels before it becomes the order of the day.”
An Algerian assistant lecturer who is seeking a Ph.D., Imene Bensalem, at Abdel Hamid Mehri – Constantine 2 University, said that “As a teacher I can say it is very common in my university—not only plagiarism but also all the other practices which are academically dishonest, such as cheating on exams.”
A few studies hint at the prevalence of academic dishonesty. Bensalem is the lead author for a 2014 study that outlined a method for trying to detect plagiarism within a document when there isn’t another digital document to compare it with.
Another study entitled “Academic Dishonesty in the Middle East: Individual and Contextual Factors ” indicated that 8 percent of students at a Lebanese university admitted to a violation of academic honesty.
A quick search on Retraction Watch, an independent website that tracks academic papers that have been officially declared false, indicated that several studies carried out at Arab universities and research centers were retracted after discoveries of plagiarism.
Teddi Fishman, director of the International Center for Academic Integrity, based in the United States, said “while Arab universities might well have some unusual challenges, cheating, fabrication, plagiarism and other forms of dishonesty are common in institutions of every sort—religious, secular, public, private etc. all over the world.”
“Based upon our surveys of students all over the globe including Arab universities, we estimate roughly one-third to one-half of students engage in some form of written cheating—ranging from cut-and-paste plagiarism to turning a paper in for more than one class, to buying a paper.”
Libraries, a place where students often do research and begin writing papers, can help students to understand academic ethics. But only 17 percent of Arab academic libraries provide information on their websites about plagiarism, versus 81 percent of non-Arab academic libraries, according to a study presented at a library conference held at Cairo University last year.
A study of female students at King Saud University, in Saudi Arabia, found that 35 percent of them did not think there was anything wrong with plagiarism. The study was conducted in the College of Computer and Information Science, where English was the language of instruction. The study’s authors suspected that many students’ English was weak and the temptation to use others’ words was strong.
Bensalem suggested that Arab universities must step up their efforts to build awareness of the seriousness of academic dishonesty.
She said that includes putting tutorials about plagiarism on university websites, using plagiarism-detection software, providing courses for students about proper research and citing references and academic dishonesty policies that make rules and punishments clear.
Fishman said that when students see other students plagiarizing, getting away with it and benefiting, the behavior will spread.
A recent Unesco study said that Egyptian academics have published other people’s work as their own and then been promoted to high positions, even though their plagiarism was well known.
“It’s essential that we don’t just talk about acting with integrity, but that we do a certain amount of policing it as well,” Fishman pointed out. “When education is seen as a means to an end rather than something with inherent value, cheating is a predictable result.”
“What would probably help most would be to shift societal values in such a way that education—the processes of becoming educated—was seen as more highly desirable than degrees,” Fishman concluded.