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The economic cost of plagiarism

3 years ago

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Why can’t Sri Lankans generally read or write well anymore? From businessmen to journalists, lawyers, judges, academics, and many more professions, practical literacy seems to be diminishing; so much so that it is having a major negative impact on our lives and the country’s future.
In Sri Lanka, we can’t seem to read or write a contract correctly – often, months after a foreign contract is approved by the Cabinet, Line Ministry, Attorney General, etc., our governments routinely appoint committees and commissions to investigate the impact of contracts, and cast blame as to why they were signed. The continuing confusion over the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant for several years now is one case in point. We can’t decide whether to accept nearly a hundred billion rupees, because no one’s sure what the contract entails. The Singapore-Sri Lanka Free Trade Agreement (FTA) is yet another example. After signing the treaty, Sri Lanka attempts to change it. Ditto with the Colombo Port City agreement and the Hambantota Port agreement, where the Chinese would be laughing incredulously at our gullibility in trying to change clauses years after signing. Laws and even constitutional amendments are written in such a vague manner that even law professors are confused about their practical application. Remember the political fiasco of November 2018 when Sri Lanka became the laughing stock of the world for having two Prime Ministers? That was because the 19th Amendment wasn’t clear, until the Supreme Court had to step in. Meanwhile, the political turmoil caused investors to flee and led to a lawlessness in the country that has been blamed for the rise of the Easter bombers while the Government was in limbo. Perhaps one reason is that many of those in key positions in government and the overall economy are cheating their way through university, and their actual literary capacity remains at the Advanced Level (A/L), Ordinary Level (O/L) or even worse, rather than the graduate level. An analysis of university plagiarism in Sri Lanka’s university sector reveals some startling facts. A 2015 study by R.C. Kodikara and A.D.B. Kumara on “Plagiarism amongst research students in the University of Moratuwa in Sri Lanka” that surveyed final year and postgraduate students, and was published in the Sri Lanka Library Review, Special Issue, Volume 29, 2015 concluded that “plagiarism is considerable at the university”. A survey of Sri Lankan websites and newspaper classifieds found numerous examples of open advertisements for academic fraud (source: Cogitaro), ranging from assignments at diploma level for an incredible Rs. 1,500, to dissertations and theses up to master’s and PhD level. One advertisement actually stated that all assignments and the thesis could be provided at a fee similar to the entire course fee for a PhD programme, and guaranteed a distinction pass for any level programme. Fig. 1 displays examples of advertisements that could possibly be punishable under the Penal Code. Global context Sri Lanka is not alone in facing this situation. Since the introduction of advanced technologies and knowledge via digital media, plagiarism has become a major issue in the learned community, where scholars should be upholding the virtues of integrity, ethics, and professionalism. •One in seven recent graduates employed ghostwriters to complete their assignment and thesis, with an estimated 31 million students plagiarising worldwide (News and World Report Survey) •90% of students interviewed thought that they would not be caught or punished for plagiarism or cheating on the work of others (News and World Report Survey) •Students who cheat mostly feel right to do what they do. The cheaters get good marks, the non-cheaters often get just average marks. Cheaters are not punished in most situations. Once caught, they are rarely properly punished. The demand for high grades raises the prospect of cheating The University of New South Wales reported approximately 2,000% fewer students found cheating at assessments and tests after improving testing methods at the university. It also found that previously, some two-thirds of academic staff suspected cheating, but did not think they had sufficient evidence to prove students had cheated. The MyMaster Controversy of 2015, where about 1,000 students from 16 Australian universities hired a company through the internet for ghostwriting their assignments and theses, was revealed when assignments were run through a plagiarism testing service. Many students were expelled or had their degrees cancelled. Worldwide, the drop in overall reading of quality literature and the rise of social media have contributed to the reduction in literary standards. Social media encourages the use of short sentences with wrong grammar and abbreviated words. Contributing factors in Sri Lanka Sri Lanka’s continuing “parrot-style education”, where students are required to memorise and regurgitate at an exam, with little practical knowledge required, contributes to the inability of university students to eloquently express their ideas and creativity. Parents and even teachers are much to blame for stifling creativity and instead demanding high marks. Sri Lankan society provides little space for proper constructive debates, either orally or literally; the worst role model being Parliament where violence and verbal abuse dominate. One wonders how many of our Members of Parliament (MPs) and ministers have even read our own Constitution or even bother to read Cabinet papers, draft commercial agreements, draft international agreements, and draft Acts of Parliament? Impact of plagiarism •Ruined academic credibility There have been many reports of the effects of plagiarism in the academic world where an academic’s reputation is scarred with claims of plagiarism. A successful academic career requires academic publications. Publication losses most likely mean the end of an academic position and huge damage to reputation. •Legal impact Plagiarism may have serious legal repercussions. An author has a full right to copyright. Without quotation and reference, others cannot use the content of another scholar. A writer is entitled to sue a plagiarist. Plagiarism can also be considered a felony that may lead to a jail sentence. Many who write for a lifetime are especially vulnerable to plagiarism of their work, including journalists and writers. Academic writers and researchers are familiar with copyright legislation and methods of avoiding plagiarism, which is a troubling ethical and legal problem. •Destroy students’ futures Charges of plagiarism will lead to a student being penalised. Internationally, many schools, colleges, and universities take plagiarism very seriously. Most universities have academic student integrity committees. Most colleges ban students for their first violation. Students are often dismissed for more serious acts of plagiarism.   Preventing plagiarism •Define plagiarism explicitly Universities must provide new students with a simple description of plagiarism and unethical collaboration. These concepts can vary between faculty members and between classes. This is especially important to be explained explicitly in each course that they attend. It should define a zero tolerance policy for the programme so the seriousness of cheating in their class is beyond doubt. •Rough drafts and tracking work progress Adding deadlines to a written assignment in which students are expected to apply their research in advance, discourages them from plagiarism. This also helps them spread a greater writing challenge for a longer time, so that students are unable to take the simple route out of the assignment. •Checking work through plagiarism software Students can proactively approach problems before submitting them to their teachers, checking their work on them. Teachers can detect cases of plagiarism using one of the many available websites and software programmes by reviewing students’ posts. Some of the better known plagiarism software include Turnitin, Grammarly, Quetext,, etc. Teachers will use this online resource as both a platform for learning and for identification. Turnitin will give students useful knowledge on writing if they are encouraged to see their “originality papers” and to see how much of the paper in their own words is actually published. Turnitin can also help teach students what is and what is not appropriate. •Apply proper citation Students are not justified in referencing sources in their articles inappropriately. Incorrect quotations mean that though they belong to another author, the ideas and information presented in a paper are those of the student. This shows a disdain for the institution and depreciates academic experience for everyone in general. A specific citation style (footnotes, terminology, or parenthetical quotations) may be required from different disciplines, professors, and institutions. American Psychological Association (APA), Harvard, Chicago, and Modern Language Association (MLA) are the most used style guides in the academic region. Crackdown on plagiarism services Plagiarism services do not operate covertly, since their very nature requires open marketing. Fig. 2 shows such an example: For lecturers and instructors •Conduct academic writing and research methodology classes Lecturers will have to converse about the methods they used to do their research in their thesis or dissertation. The chapter on methods discusses what they have done and how it was done, which helps readers determine the reliability and validity of the study. It should contain the following: Type of research; significance of research; how to write the research problem; how to construct research questions and objectives; how to conduct literature reviews; methods and techniques to gather data; how to interpret data; referencing; and citation. •Don’t repeat the assignment Don’t give the same assignment or project each year. Otherwise, students may try to use the previous work as a source if they find that their friends have already studied the same project. •Share samples and guidance Teachers should include a sample final paper in their course material, as well as links to appropriate APA and MLA citation guides. This illustrates that students should expect the standard of paper that their teacher expects from them. •Micro-assignment techniques Divide larger projects into micro-assignments. This makes it more difficult for students to plagiarise by demanding an outline and a rough draft. It can be hard to do so over several weeks, as students can change their themes at the last minute. Students must be sure and provide the contents for the micro-assignments they have written. •Submit digital/electronic copy Require students to submit electronic copies and, where appropriate, copies of their records. It is easy for teachers to identify plagiarism using one of the numerous software packages using electronic copies of students’ written work. They would also be less likely to skip measures and resort to plagiarism by allowing students to apply their historical research content. •Require recent references and sources Require recent sources to be used. Lecturers should ask for a certain minimum number of sources. Furthermore, ask for high-impact journal references or articles that must be in International Scientific Indexing (ISI) journals, etc., within the past three years. •Check assignments in plagiarism software Before handing over, have students apply their assignments to Turnitin. Lecturers may thus use Turnitin as a method for teaching. Students learn how easy it is to plagiarise accidentally and how to avoid it. •Journal publication Enforce minimum criteria to submit the research work to journals and proof of acceptance of their work. Journals always have stringent checks.   Enforcing policies Established university practices around the world outline the implications of plagiarism when a student is detected in such a practice. •Notation of temporary transcript – transcript notice is issued to the student before his/her graduation •Probation at the university – a student’s continuing participation on probation can be conditional on the enforcement of the plagiarism policy •Students may have extracurricular activities limited •Suspended – with clear reinstatement terms, the student is removed from the school for a certain period of time •Suspension infinite – while reinstatement requirements are stated, the student shall no longer be enrolled in the school •Dismissal/expulsion – the university student is permanently removed from university   Conclusion Today, Sri Lankan government officials and private sector executives almost always possess university degrees. It is therefore possible to arrest the “dumbing down” of our society by simply nipping it in the bud in universities, both state and private. The simple methods described above, if implemented, would go a long way towards arresting this deplorable trend. (The writers are Managing Partners of, a consultancy that finds practical solutions for challenges facing society and different industries.  Dr. Ruwan Dias is a digital architect and educationist based in Kuala Lumpur. He holds a BSc in Computing from the University of Greenwich, a Master’s in Computer Software Engineering from Staffordshire University, and a PhD from the University of Malaya. He is completing a second doctorate in business administration from Universiti Utara Malaysia. Niresh Eliatamby is a lecturer in marketing, HR, and mass communications based in Colombo. He is an author and was formerly the Associate Editor of a newspaper and Editor of various industry magazines. He holds an MBA from London Metropolitan University and an LLM from Cardiff Metropolitan University.

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