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Plagiarism and the impediments to research scrutiny

  • Published at 05:28 pm May 24th, 2021
the book

A few public and private universities are using plagiarism detection software but there is no accurate information on it

Half the thesis paper written by a public servant as part of his PhD research under the Institute of Social Welfare and Research of Dhaka University has been found to be plagiarized. After this revelation, he worked on his paper further but there was still 33% plagiarism or another person’s work passed off as his own. The researcher, a deputy commissioner (DC) of a district, submitted his paper recently after bringing down the plagiarism within the permitted margin, which is below 30%.

This is one of the numerous instances detected by a software used by the authorities of Dhaka University to check plagiarism, considered a serious offence across the world.

Since the installation of the software, Turnitin, at the university’s central library in mid-2017, over 20,000 thesis papers, articles and dissertations have come under its scrutiny, with 20%  of them found crossing permitted limits as their papers had plagiarism of up to 50%, officials involved in the screening process have told Dhaka Tribune.

“During the initial days, we screened a fewer number of papers and articles, but the number began climbing fast in 2018 following widespread debates and discussions over plagiarism,” said an official, adding: “We checked more than 4,000 contents in the first four months of 2021 and found that 10-20% of them were copied from others’ work in various ranges.”

Also Read - ED: Stepping up the focus on research

Lack of understanding

Such frequent cases of plagiarism happen because many are not familiar with the basic concepts of academic integrity and do not understand the definition of plagiarism, while many copy others’ work intentionally. To avoid plagiarism, one needs to provide proper attribution and credit for the works of others, but many simply do not do so.

The Dhaka University authorities have given access to this software to all departments, institutes and research centres so that they can check for plagiarism. Screening through the software is now mandatory prior to a submission of thesis papers, articles and dissertations.

“The number of contents having similarities with others’ write-ups is going down as everyone is now alert and willing to verify their papers and articles before submission,” said Professor M Nasiruddin Munshi, Librarian (in-charge) of Dhaka University library.

More and more faculties, students and researchers are demanding access to Turnitin but the university authorities could not allow all of them to use the software, he said. 

However, considering the importance of the matter, the authorities are planning to enhance the accessibility of the software, he added.

Many teachers believe the margin of plagiarism was much higher in the past as only a small number of teachers and researchers were aware of the concept. Besides, there was no mechanism to check their writings. Using software will lead to a decline of such malpractices, but only a few universities and institutions are using software against thousands of research papers and articles which are being submitted to the country’s 150 public and private universities every year.

Binoy Krishna Guin, subscription sales manager (Higher Education) of Turnitin, told Dhaka Tribune recently that most of the universities having collaboration agreements with foreign universities were subscribing to their software. He declined to provide more details.

Also Read - Bangladesh fall behind India, Pakistan in research

It may be noted that while there are many papers and articles being written in Bangla, the software Turnitin cannot detect the contents. As a result, a lot of such cases go unnoticed.

What do other universities do?

A few public and private universities are also using plagiarism detection software, but there is no accurate information on it. Neither the University Grants Commission (UGC) nor the Education Ministry maintains any record on the detection of plagiarised material.

Dhaka Tribune contacted a number of private universities to learn whether they used any software but they all declined to share information.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet), a leading public university, is preparing to buy software in this regard. “Researchers here follow international standards and produce unique writings. There is less of a chance of committing crime here. Nonetheless, we have plans to obtain software to maintain the standard of academic papers and articles,” said Dr Samia Subrina, Librarian (Additional Charge) of the university.

No guidelines or policy to check plagiarism

Many Asian countries have policies regarding plagiarism, but Bangladesh is yet to formulate any such policy. As matters stand, neither the Education Ministry nor the UGC has any plan in this area.

Interestingly, instead of formulating a policy, the UGC is planning to purchase software to verify papers and articles. “We have a plan to subscribe to a globally recognized plagiarism detection software,” Prof Dil Afroza Begum, UGC member, told this newspaper recently.

Once the software was subscribed, she said, “the UGC will be able to handle the complaints of plagiarism against any faculty member and forward suggestions on what to do regarding the matter, which will help detect culprits and maintain academic integrity.”

Also Read - DU teachers demoted over charges of plagiarism

DU readies draft guidelines

A three-member committee, formed in October 2020, was entrusted with the responsibility of formulating a guideline on detecting levels of plagiarism, its prevention and determining penalty for plagiarists. The move was taken following a series of plagiarism cases revealed at the universities in recent years.

The committee members are three acting deans--Prof Sadeka Halim of the Faculty of Social Science, Prof Md Rahmat Ullah of the Faculty of Law and Prof Md Hasanuzzaman of the Faculty of Engineering and Technology.

The committee has already submitted a draft guideline to the Deans’ Committee. The guideline now awaits approval.

In the meantime, the university authorities formed another committee headed by Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academics) Prof ASM Maksud Kamal to finalize the draft guideline and place it before the Syndicate. 

However, this committee could not sit because of the Covid-19 situation.

Supervisors play a key role

Plagiarism can be checked if research supervisors play their role properly, guide their students, help them understand their topics better and, finally, review the students’ papers. In many cases, supervisors do not play this crucial role. 

Prof Hasanuzzaman, one of the members of the committee, emphasized the role of supervisors in checking plagiarism.

“There will be no problem with any article if the supervisor of a researcher scrutinizes the write-up properly by following due procedure. Bangla articles should be certified after proper review,” he told Dhaka Tribune.

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