When students would rather copy and paste
- The Internet has spawned a culture of plagiarism among university and college students, leaving academicians worried about the fate of learning and the danger the future leaders are exposing themselves to
Last month, a university in Hungary stripped the country’s President Pal Schmitt of a doctorate degree after a team of academicians found that he had plagiarised a large chunk of material for a thesis he did 20 years ago on the Olympics.
In a report detailing the matter, the academicians were even more concerned about the failure by the University of Physical Education (UPE) to notice the plagiarism. UPE is now part of Semmelweis University, which revoked the degree.
These concerns, although raised in a distant land, are worth paying attention to.
During a recent discussion in a lounge at a public university, two senior lecturers were heard discussing term papers and theses and the copy-paste culture that students have adopted.
The discussion went something like the excerpt below (we have used fictitious names).
Prof Vera: I am not looking forward to reading the rest of my students’ term papers.
I have already read four identical papers, complete with the commas, full stops, and even errors in content. Everything is copied word for word, and all plagiarised from the same source.
Dr Zeus: That is extremely a poor showing on the students’ part. It means one of them plagiarised the article and the rest simply copied. You know what? It is not only happens among undergraduates, but across all levels.
Prof Vera: True. That reminds me of a Master’s student who handed in her thesis proposal with the Internet links scattered throughout the document. Another student brought in a thesis with acknowledgements addressed to a different university.
Dr Zeus: There are many ways in which other students penetrate the system and present similar work without being caught.
How do we track down 100 essays in the same or similar areas? By the way, don’t you know that there are also bureaus ready to sell whatever students want for their course work?
A Master’s thesis goes for something like Sh30,000, while a doctoral piece is obtainable for between Sh50,000 to Sh100,000. It all depends on what you want and the amount of money you have.
Prof Vera: That sounds like an auction bid.
Dr Zeus: Yes, and much more. All the student needs to do is to attend class, listen out for the assignment, and then rush to one of these bureaus.
Other students simply download material on similar topics and pass it to their classmates for favours.
Prof Vera: So, why do they pay to come to the university, only for someone else to do their work for them?
Is it about a paper degree? What happens if the same student gets a First Class Honours degree and is awarded a scholarship to attend a good university outside Kenya? Will they copy their way through again?
Dr Zeus: I believe plagiarism is thriving in many universities in the world. Perhaps only the mode and levels differ.
Where young minds are, there will always be ways to beat the system.
If you asked these young people why they did it, the response would be something like, “Everyone does it, so why not me?”
Prof Vera: It is not all about young minds. Even older students have become part of this culture. During our time at university, it was a hard day’s job. We had no Internet connection then.
The only library had a few books, and many of the ones we needed for our studies could be lent out for only two hours.
As a result, there were often long queues for such books.
And read we did, and held frequent debates and discussions in our rooms.
The aim was to encourage a reading culture and to develop our writing and analytical skills.
Dr Zeus: And you would be treated like a criminal if you were found copying from a book or article.
Prof Vera: My worry is how graduates who copy and paste material and pass it off as their own will function at the workplace.
Plagiarism is not made for real life situations, is it?
Dr Zeus: Of course not. Now what happens to your four students?
Prof Vera: I will read out to them some of the articles about Hungary’s President having his doctorate degree of 20 years revoked on grounds that he plagiarised material for his thesis. I will then ask them to think hard about it.
The writer is an educationist and gender consultant