Regulation on academic fraud hopes to reduce plagiarism

A new Ministry of Education regulation to punish academic fraud came into effect on 1 January, to clamp down on plagiarism and fabricating research data, as well as buying, selling or organising trade in academic degree theses, including all forms of ‘ghostwriting’ or buying of materials produced by essay mills.

According to the regulation, institutions can withhold graduate, postgraduate or doctoral degrees if plagiarism or fraud is committed in the writing of dissertations.

Degrees already awarded can be revoked and the students in question will be banned from applying for further degrees within three years, according to the official China Daily newspaper.

In addition the students, tutors and other college officials involved can be suspended, removed from their post or expelled from the university as punishment.

An earlier draft of the regulation, published when it was put out for consultation last July, also stipulated that institutions with “too many” fraud cases may have their licence to grant degrees revoked by the authorities.

The regulation, seen as part of a broader campaign to stamp out academic misconduct, which is harming the country’s reputation internationally, is being described in state-run media as the “first of its kind” in the country.

It comes after universities have failed to crack down on plagiarism in recent years. This is despite previous strongly worded Education Ministry circulars, sent to universities in 2009 and 2010, making them responsible for detecting and investigating academic fraud. Yet little action was taken by universities.

Nonetheless, the number of institutions introducing computer software to detect academic fraud has increased, with China’s state radio reporting last June that some 60 institutions had such plagiarism detection software, and another 550 institutions were using an academic research database developed by China Knowledge Resource Integrated Database, which would allow them to compare essays with published research.

But according to reports on the microblogging site Sina Weibo, ghostwriting services are already advertising special rates to produce dissertations that can “beat the software”.

Almost a dozen known essay mills, such as Hanlin Centre and Wenbo Research, continue to openly advertise ghostwriting services in China, and some offer “zero plagiarism” services.

Some experts say it will take a long time to crack down on plagiarism because the reasons for it are complex and rooted in a system that provides monetary reward to academics for publishing papers, and that protects higher level academics from being ousted from their posts.

Academics need to be trained in ethics and how to properly cite other people’s work, according to experts.

Zhao Guanyin, a professor at the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, told official China radio recently that the issue needed to be tackled in its entirety.

“The regulation makers need to think about all the reasons leading to academic fraud,” Zhao said. “Another thing is how to implement the regulations effectively. Without such implementation they would be useless."