Student plagiarism: do we care?

Plagiarism is an issue of concern in institutions of learning across the world. There are several widely held ideas about plagiarism in Nigeria, but they have not been substantiated because of a lack of empirical findings. However, a recently completed doctoral research project on student plagiarism in Nigerian universities has thrown more light on the matter.

An analysis of quantitative data collected from 839 participants from 39 Nigerian universities and Nigerian students from two UK universities, in addition to qualitative data, has confirmed some widely held views and thrown more light on some grey areas, while unveiling some new concerns and phenomena.

The findings, based on interviews with lecturers and management staff and focus groups of students, have implications for student learning and Nigerian universities and society. Responses from students covered their previous academic background, their awareness, perception and attitude towards the idea of plagiarism and perceived forms and causes of plagiarism.

Furthermore, the research highlighted the position and responses of universities on the issue, including the policies and procedures they adopt to manage student plagiarism. The findings from the data collected were used in the development of a conceptual model for dealing with student plagiarism in Nigerian universities.

Lack of awareness

The findings suggested that most of the Nigerian students who participated have an incomplete comprehension of what plagiarism is and what forms it takes. Surprisingly, a number of lecturers at Nigerian universities perceived plagiarism in a similar way to their students and had a mostly incomplete understanding of it.

There was also very little agreement among lecturers on an institutional definition of plagiarism. It is hardly surprising then that the students could not understand why some ways of writing are considered as plagiarism. As a result, a number of students claimed they might have plagiarised in the past as they were unaware about the concept or its ethical implications.

Lack of awareness about plagiarism among participating Nigerian students was of the order of 81% and 67% in the two UK universities, respectively, and 40% in the Nigerian universities. A number of the students said they had only heard about plagiarism when the researcher asked the question.

Hence, the main types of plagiarism practices by the students were mostly due to a lack of acquisition of the relevant skills for the appropriate use of sources. Since the predominant form of assessment in Nigeria is examinations, many of the students are not given opportunities to develop academic writing skills.

Reasons for plagiarism given by some students included no clearly stated academic writing requirements, no efficient checks being in place and discouragement of creativity. In most cases, the Nigerian universities were found to still use the traditional didactic approach to teaching and learning.

A number of senior management staff stated that corruption in the society in which they studied was also a factor.

Another type of student plagiarism was the re-submission of work previously submitted by students studying at other universities. Additionally, it was observed that most of the Nigerian students studying in Nigerian universities were more likely to plagiarise than Nigerian students studying in the UK.

Lack of concern

Students were mostly of the belief that Nigerian universities were not concerned about the issue of plagiarism. One stated: ‘No! Not by any stretch of the imagination, no! It was never brought up as a problem, only cheating in the examination hall was. You can write an idea without referencing it and it is accepted, even in your final-year project.’

Where some of the lecturers felt it was a major problem, others believed it only became a problem when students started to write their projects. These differing views have implications for policy responses from teachers and institutions.

Students were unanimous in their views that there was no institution-wide training about plagiarism provided to them by Nigerian universities. A few students said their lecturers talked about ethical writing, but did not provide the necessary support.

While the majority of students were of the view that nothing exists in Nigerian universities to stop plagiarism, which some linked to a lack of adequate tools or systems in place, others stated that their lecturers and project supervisors provided some form of checks during the period of writing their dissertation.

In relation to policies and procedures, most students said that they were not aware of any policies or guidelines followed by their lecturers with regard to student plagiarism. Similarly, most of the lecturers were of the view that there were no clear institutional policies or procedures on the issue of student plagiarism and believed it would be a useful development to create them.

Disadvantaged students

Based on these findings, it can be concluded that most Nigerian students are unprepared for the challenges of international studies. Their current educational experiences put them at a disadvantage in five key areas: different educational systems; methods of assessments; study expectation in the UK; perceived assumptions about UK universities; and lack of ICT and virtual learning environment skills.

Also, the research findings suggest that student plagiarism in Nigerian universities is not considered a great priority or concern.

Stopping student plagiarism requires a consistent approach. As one student stated: “I think plagiarism has to be inculcated in education beginning from primary or post-primary or post-secondary school levels so that pupils or students grow to learn about it and it can be part of their life.”

Highlighting the need for academic integrity in Nigerian universities is a way of fostering deep learning, creativity and innovation among students, which will enhance their learning experiences and, in turn, drive the education system to new heights of achievement.

Stella-Maris Orim is a lecturer in information systems in the department of aviation, aerospace, electrical and electronic engineering at the faculty of engineering and computing, Coventry University, UK. This article is based on her PhD thesis entitled Investigation of Student Plagiarism in Nigerian Universities from the University of Coventry, United Kingdom, 2014.