Higher education hit by plagiarism scandals

Plagiarism has been taboo for some and an open secret for others in Algeria, but is today a scandal that no one can deny – even though Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research officials are trying to minimise the problem. Some flagrant examples of plagiarism have emerged into the public sphere, and they appear to be the tip of the iceberg.

For instance, at Abbas Laghrour University in Khenchela, in eastern Algeria, a disciplinary council examined the case of the dean of the faculty of social and human sciences and two lecturers accused of plagiarising articles from international reviews.

The council decided to downgrade the academics, then excluded them from pedagogic activities for four years.

Not far away, in Biskra at Mohamed Khider University – which has nearly 40,000 students – a PhD thesis defended in the department of architectural sciences was suspected of illegal reproduction of several chapters from another thesis on micro-climates in urban public spaces.

In the western city of Oran, in the faculty of law at Belgaid University, two PhD theses were annulled because of plagiarism following an inquiry recommended by the Higher Education and Scientific Research Ministry in the capital Algiers.

What is highly disturbing, said one professor in Algiers, is that some teachers illegally copy complete theses while others pay a considerable amount of money to buy them.

Common practice

These cases are only a sample of common occurrences that are denounced by honest and qualified academics.

At one of Algeria’s oldest institutions – Mentouri University, situated in the Numidian city of Constantine, the capital of east Algeria – professors have publicly spoken up.

They submitted a letter of denunciation to the authorities and academic communities about the negative effects of plagiarism on the intellectual culture and education in Algeria.

Physicists Ali Derbala from the University of Blida near Algiers and Mohamed Draissia from the University of Annaba in the east, are running a campaign to alert the authorities, university community and public about plagiarism scandals.

Kais Benachour, a journalist with the national daily newspaper Horizons, wrote that plagiarism is becoming more widespread. He reported that students preparing theses for first degrees, masters and even doctorates were “using, abusing and misusing other’s intellectual property without scruple” through ‘copy and paste’ techniques.

Access to the internet has made it easier and quicker for students to cut and paste other people’s work.

But how can lecturers be aware of malpractices if they do not have computer facilities and internet access, or simply don’t know how to check for plagiarism on the world wide web?

Despite the digital illiteracy of some lecturers, experts have argued, plagiarism must be fought with the force of law, ethics and deontology as it is a crime against human intelligence and intellectual creation.

The fight against plagiarism

Opening the new academic year last week the minister of higher education and scientific research, Professor Tahar Hadjar, minimised the plagiarism phenomenon – but his department has adopted series of measures to curb it.

Recent ministry of higher education decrees consider acts of plagiarism to be serious professional breach that can result in work being annulled, degrees withdrawn and exclusion from posts – as well as possible judicial action.

To curb further cases of plagiarism, the department of higher education has instructed all universities to set up databases on their websites in which all works and theses produced by students, lecturers and researchers are reported.

Data related to academics, areas of interest, faculties and curriculum vitae will be available and visible.

Further, academics are allowed to supervise limited numbers of theses – nine in social sciences and humanities, and only six in science and technology – to guarantee efficient supervision.

In another move to rehabilitate ethics, values and rules, the education department has called on university communities to elect new ethics committees that work to preserve scientific and intellectual honesty.

And last but not least, technical and computing solutions are also provided through software that detects plagiarism.

But will such measures wipe out the culture of plagiarism prevailing in universities, colleges and schools, which is insulting intelligence, ethics and morality in Algeria? It is up to everyone in society to combat plagiarism, theft and dishonesty, and not to succumb to the temptations of laziness and mediocrity.