Instances of plagiarism among Indian students studying abroad have been on a rise. But the problem is much deep-rooted than it seems
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Updated: 04 Feb 2022 5:38 pm
In a blatant case of academic impropriety, an Indian student, while writing an essay as a part of his academic assignment in a top US university, lifted a paragraph from former US President Abraham Lincoln’s speech and used it as his own original thought.
What annoyed the university professors was that instead of admitting his mistake in the show cause notice, he denied the allegations and accused the university of ignoring his talent and creativity. The university rusticated him in the next communication and the students had no option but return to India.
“He is an intelligent student and comes from a well-to-do family. The problem is that in India, copying content is a common practice and many students do it as an accepted norm,” Adarsh Khandelwal, co-founder & director of Collegify, an education Services firm that specialises in admissions consulting for foreign universities and e-learning products. “However, in foreign universities, these are serious ethical and legal issues which may even lead to the student being expelled,” Khandelwal said.
Education counsellors say that 20 to 30 per cent of international students, majorly from South East Asia including India, studying in the US, UK and European Universities at some point in their academic career, plagiarise and face extreme consequences. In fact, many global universities such as the University of Wollongong, New York Institute of Technology, Mount Saint Mary’s University, LA, and Tiffin University are working with education counsellors to improve Indian and SE students' academic skills including plagiarism.
Top universities also understand that the issue isn’t simple, in fact much deep rooted. According to a Cambridge Network Blog, this issue is not as simple as telling international students not to copy directly from sources or to provide proper citations. “Many educators report that their students, “just don’t get why it’s a big deal.” As a result, teachers, administrators, and international students alike end up frustrated when the issue of plagiarism comes up,” the blog states.
Different cultural foundations are often cited as a major reason behind how students perceive knowledge. “To effectively communicate the issue of plagiarism with international students from East Asia, we highly recommend examining some of the cultural differences between the East and the West. Typically, the root cause of plagiarism among this segment of the student body are cultural,” the blog states.
“Plagiarism is a new concept for most international students moving to western education systems and Indians are no exceptions to that. An essential academic skill encouraged by overseas universities is to develop original perspectives or points of view on a topic. Of course, this may require students to study what has already been put out there by others and then the need to develop their original work from their understanding,” Abhinav Mital, an Alumni of ISB Hyderabad and IIT Delhi, who is co-founder of The WorldGrad, a hybrid learning-focused study abroad platform, said.
As a part of the academic exercise, students are asked to write essays, thesis, research papers and other assignments depending upon the course for which they are enrolled, and that’s when they resort to plagiarism most often. “Students copy content from websites or books unaware of being caught. Also, since they are not aware that universities follow a zero-tolerance policy against plagiarisms, they take it casually,” a dean from a reputed university in the UK said requesting anonymity.
Most global universities nowadays have special softwares to detect any sort of copying of content. “For example, if a student of psychology is asked to do a research paper on the impact of Covid-19 on the mental wellbeing of people. If he or she copies some portion of the content from other research papers already available in the public domain, the software check at our end will track it and tell us that the percentage of content plagiarised along with the original source,” he added.
Problem arises when many a times, students, instead of apologising or providing an honest reason, refuse to own up to their mistake. “This amounts to a sort of contempt or insult to the legacy and ethos of top institutions like Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, and Yale to name a few. Such students are rusticated right away,” Khandelwal said.
“While writing essays in schools, we often used to take quotes and other content from the internet. Our school teachers never stopped us from doing it,” said a student from one of the top foreign institutions, who was caught copying content from another research website. “I was shocked to get a show-cause notice from the university. My education counsellor in India advised me to apologise and say that I was not aware that it would amount to plagiarism. I did that and saved my admission. The university was kind enough not to terminate me. But, I was failed me in that particular paper,” he added.
Academicians agree that a big part of the problem lies in the Indian education system itself. “Our teaching system is in a big way responsible for promoting plagiarism among students. Most of our teachers don’t encourage students to write answers in their own words. This long term practice from schools to universities leads to this unethical habit,” said Gyaneshwar Chaubey, a professor of genetics at Banaras Hindu University (BHU).
Indian students, apart from Chinese and Vietnamese students, in particular, are notorious for resorting to plagiarism. Prof. Mukti Kanta Mishra, Co-Founder and President of Centurion University, who has taught in several countries, confirms that out of most international students studying in foreign universities, cases of plagiarism is highest among Indian students.
“I blame our education system for that. Cheating is a part of our DNA. You are honest as long as somebody is looking over your shoulder,” he says and suggests that the complete evaluation system needs to be revamped. “First, we need to introduce a continuous evaluation system instead of a half-yearly or annual examination system. Second, we need a system of open-book exams where students can sit with books but questions should be framed in such a way that you cannot copy from the book. Third, we should develop a habit to give reference to others' work. So if you are referring to someone, you have to give credit for that,” he said.
Experts say that sometimes even students face criminal charges and fines – all depending on the severity and the laws of the country.
“For example, in 2020, Australia introduced a very tough draft regulation to prevent academic misconduct and cheating amongst students that prescribes jail term and monetary fines to perpetrators,” Mittal of WorldGrad said.
In the US, plagiarism is not illegal but considered a violation of honor or ethics codes and can result in disciplinary action from a person’s school or workplace. However, plagiarism can warrant legal action if it infringes upon the original author’s copyright, patent or trademark. It can also result in a lawsuit if it breaches a contract with terms that only original work is acceptable.
The University of Oxford, too, has clearly laid down rules and guidelines for plagiarism. It defines plagiarism as: “presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own, with or without their consent, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgement. All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form. Plagiarism may be intentional or reckless, or unintentional.” It holds plagiarism as a disciplinary offence.
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