Universities take steps to curb academic dishonesty
Last October, teachers in the faculty of economics at the University of Algiers disclosed the names of students accused of cheating in a doctoral entrance examination, but thus far no action against the students has been reported in the media.
At the University of Mentouri Brothers in Constantine, a city east of Algeria, two masters examinations were cancelled in October after model answers were leaked, while in Oran in the west, four doctoral projects in the faculty of arts and literature were nullified following complaints of academic dishonesty.
Jamel Bougezata, director of training at the ministry of higher education and scientific research, said the ministry receives anonymous complaints against academic officials regarding cases of nepotism and mismanagement, leading to poor management of examinations, on a daily basis.
“As a response, we have assigned 10 inspection committee teams to different universities to check the veracity of complaints and in parallel, the courts are used to determine the cases of fraud and make appropriate findings,” he said.
Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Professor Tahar Hadjar has tried to downplay the extent and impact of fraud cases in Algerian universities, compared to the fraud happening elsewhere, labelling them “isolated”.
“These cases are isolated ones and my department is committed to fighting intellectual dishonesty and other sorts of cheating, fraud, corruption and plagiarism,” he said in the Arabic language newspaper Echourouk.
A ‘plague’ of cheating
However, for academic staff, the incidents are by no means isolated.
Amrane Belaid, an associate professor in the faculty of science and applied sciences at the University of Bouira, 120 kilometres east of Algiers, said in an interview with El Watan: “Scenes of irregularities in the exams have become increasingly common, symptomatic of a profound malaise. Cheating is a plague that today tarnishes the image of the university. There was a time when our university was an incubator, a provider of high-level executives for the needs of the country and for all sectors of activity. That time is far behind us.”
“Today, everyone recognises that university standards are in regression and our university is struggling to reach the necessary level in a delicate economic context and in the context of globalisation. All reforms in the higher education sector have been implemented without the real consultation of specialists,” he said.
In his analysis of the cheating phenomenon, Nourredine Bessadi, professor at Mouloud Mammeri University of Tizi-Ouzou, 100 kilometres east of Algeria, said: “The process of introducing the Arabic language, notably in scientific and technical fields, did not take into consideration the prominence of the French language. Suddenly, the student who has studied entirely in Arabic faces the difficulties and inconsistencies in moving from one language system to another.”
Against the backdrop of a high first-year failure rate – up to 60% in technical fields, according to Secretary General of the Higher Education and Scientific Research Ministry Seddiki Mohamed Salah – the diploma becomes an end in itself regardless of the means of obtaining it.
“Cheating seems to be the alternative path to success,” said Bessadi. This is despite the fact that thousands of graduates leave university each year without the necessary skills required to have a real chance of entering the world of work.
“Although, there are no official statistics on the number of academics working in their field, it is estimated that only 40% of them secure jobs in their field of training,” he said.
Cheating has become a “headache” for the setters of examination papers, according to Professor Ahmed Tahri of Algiers University, mostly as a result of technology.
“Methods used are increasingly sophisticated as small pieces of papers in pockets have given way to new technologies to suit all budgets,” he said. “The scourge of cheating at the university has exceeded all standards; it has almost become the secret of success.”
The prices of earpieces, for example, vary between DZD6,000 (US$52) and DZD35,000 (US$307). According to Samir Azzoug, writing in the local French-speaking newspaper El Watan, invisible headsets – worthy of a spy movie – are also available online.
To stop cheating and prevent it from spreading, Abdelkader Gasmi, administrative officer at Algiers University, suggests a radical approach.
“You have to go to the root: the parents and the education system. From the child's first steps in school, his parents must not accept his success through cheating, much less call upon the intervention of an acquaintance to change a student's grades. The education system must curb corruption and severely punish the cheater, from the primary school level, and all accomplices.”
Gasmi said the ministry of higher education and scientific research has also announced that a new executive decree on the terms and conditions of university qualifications has been approved which is likely to have a bearing on the issue, although the decree is not yet published.
“We will wait to see the measures taken. For the rest, the fight against intellectual dishonesty cannot succeed without the contribution of students, and academic and administrative staff.”
No magic solution
Despite the drastic measures taken each year, cases of cheating emerge.
“No one can pretend to hold the magic solution to eradicate the phenomenon, and this, for the simple reason that the evil finds its roots in the society itself, where impunity is on a large scale,” said Professor Abderezak Derdouri.
Professor Iddir Ahmed Zaïd from Mouloud Mammeri University of Tizi-Ouzou, in his long contribution to El Watan newspaper on the Algerian system of higher education, suggests a return to the very origins of the concept of a university, whose major objective is to teach the arts and sciences, helping to train the mind and to make men scholarly.
“Higher education is a totality … an intergenerational construction and there is no alternative but to reform the spirit if we want to make the university play its mission of intellectual construction and citizenship,” he wrote.
Confronting what he describes as a “dispersion of intellectual potential”, Zaïd calls for an “inversion of the scale of values, a rehabilitation of scientific integrity and intellectual honesty and fairness”.