EGYPT: Research plagued by plagiarism

Mohamed Abdel Moneim, a lecturer in the faculty of commerce at the southern Egyptian University of Beni Sueif, was shocked when he came across a book carrying the name of a fellow lecturer - it had the same title as a book he had authored dealing with purchase and warehouse management. "That was not all. The alleged author had plagiarised a large chunk of my book," Moneim recalls. His case was one of many instances of plagiarism that have been uncovered in recent years, and which experts say have come to plague research in Egypt.

Moneim went to court, which ordered the copy-cat book to be confiscated and the offender to pay LE5,000 (around $90) in damages. In another instance, a lecturer at the public medical school in Alexandria, Egypt's second biggest city, plagiarised research published in international journals and attributed it to himself. Ironically, before being exposed, the lecturer had been nominated by the school to receive the State Incentive Prize, one of Egypt's most prestigious academic awards. Instead, a disciplinary board delayed his promotion from assistant professor to professor.

"Plagiarism has become a serious phenomenon, which is constantly on the rise," said Radwa Ashour, a professor of English literature at the government-run Ein Shams University in Cairo. Ashour is also a member of a committee responsible for promoting lecturers in the English department.

"We used to discover a case of plagiarism every several years. Now we discover a number of plagiarism instances committed by teaching staff at Egyptian universities every year. This is a shocking matter," Ashour told University World News. She called for terminating the careers of researchers found guilty of intellectual theft. "Plagiarism means that its perpetrator has violated one of the prerequisites of the job: honesty and trust."

According to Dr Shaaban Ramadan, dean of the University of Beni Sueif's medical school, there were several reasons behind plagiarism of research in Egypt, which has 18 public and 16 private universities as well as many research institutes and think-tanks.

One is lack of funds and resources for research and another is low academic salaries. "In addition, there is no system in Egypt to accurately register scientific research," said Ramadan. His school recently broke new ground in Egypt by setting up a research ethics committee. Its task is to verify the authenticity of research and dissertations presented at the school, and to ensure researchers strictly follow set rules. Other institutions are following this example, Ramadan added.

In Egypt, academics wishing to be promoted have to present new research papers, said Hamed Amar, a veteran educationist. "Quoting others in one's research should follow certain rules. The quoted part should be put between inverted commas and should not be longer than seven lines. Failing to do this confuses the reader and gives the impression that the quoted part belongs to the author of the book," Amar said.

But these rules are not always observed in research papers presented by lecturers seeking promotion, he lamented. "Scores of phrases are quoted without a reference to their original author. In some cases, dissertations may contain 60 to 70 plagiarised materials." Amar urged universities to name plagiarists in public lists "to shame them and make them an example for others".

Under regulations for Egyptian academic institutions, penalties for plagiarism range from reproach to delays in promotion and dismissal. The latter punishment must be passed by a disciplinary board set up by the institution to which the offender belongs. The law gives a sacked plagiarist the right to go to court to overturn his dismissal.

Playing down academic plagiarism, Abdullah Barakat, president of the public Helwan University south of Cairo, asserted the problem was "insignificant. Unlike in the past, acts of plagiarism are now exposed as part of transparency and democratisation being experienced by the whole country," Barakat told reporters recently. "Besides, plagiarism is not confined to Egyptian universities. It is found everywhere in the world."