Nearly half of respondents in study admit to plagiarism
These measures include the integration of educational training into the curriculum of Moroccan students and researchers, as well as establishing research integrity offices at Moroccan universities.
The study, ‘Exploring scientific misconduct in Morocco based on an analysis of plagiarism perception in a cohort of 1,220 researchers and students’, was authored by Khalid El Bairi of the faculty of medicine and pharmacy at the Mohamed I University, Nadia El Kadmiri of the polydisciplinary faculty of Taroudant at the Ibn Zohr University and Maryam Fourtassi of the faculty of medicine and pharmacy at the Abdelmalek Essaâdi University.
“To the best of our knowledge, this is the largest study to examine the issue of plagiarism in Morocco and Africa,” it states.
The researchers used a descriptive survey to explore perceptions and attitudes on plagiarism in several categories of scholars, including university professors, PhD researchers and postdoctoral fellows, PhD students, scientific graduates and undergraduate students. The survey also investigated various factors associated with plagiarism with the aim to implement interventions at Moroccan universities.
The survey population of 1,220 was dominated by undergraduate students (31.4%), followed by PhD students (26.6%), scientific graduates (19%), PhD holders and postdoctoral fellows (12.2%), and university professors (10.7%). Most respondents were females (69%) and all Morocco’s public universities and private universities were represented.
The study showed “some alarming findings that need to be seriously scrutinised by academic institutions for better training on research ethics and integrity”. About half of the respondents admitted to having plagiarised text in some way, for instance. And, while most of the respondents claimed to have adequate knowledge of plagiarism, they were unable to select the correct definitions from the options provided.
About 76% of those surveyed consider the citing of a source as an adequate way to prevent plagiarism being detected in their work.
In line with similar studies in other low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), the Moroccan survey confirms that plagiarism is a common issue.
“Regarding plagiarism-associated retractions of publications in Morocco, 13 (45%) were because of plagiarism or overlap among 29 retracted publications associated with various types of scientific misconduct in the Retraction Watch database,” the study points out.
Reasons for plagiarism
The study also confirms that plagiarism is not always intentional, and that time constraints to write original text and an inability to properly paraphrase also play a role.
Unintentional plagiarism is particularly noted among scholars whose native language is not English, “such as Moroccan students”.
“Remarkably, plagiarism, along with duplications, are principally regarded as an issue of the developing world, where research is novel and published in less impacted journals and ethics policy is not implemented, as compared to developed countries which have a long experience with research, but are [also] well known for data manipulation and other types of fraud,” the study notes.
“In fact, a wide range of reasons such as poor knowledge and [a lack of] skills in academic writing and research ethics and integrity are facilitators of unintentional plagiarism, and this was significant in LMICs.”
This supports the findings of a 2022 study entitled, ‘Research Misconduct in Developing Countries’, which indicated that individual factors such as language barriers, and institutional factors such as an absence of clear policies and guidelines, contribute to plagiarism.
Training on plagiarism
One way to reduce the extent of plagiarism is to provide training on research integrity, the study notes, yet more than a third of respondents claimed that such training was not commonly available at Moroccan institutions.
Likewise, Moroccan researchers who have had their work published in peer-reviewed journals had committed significantly less plagiarism.
“The risk of plagiarising was reduced drastically when participants had a positive ethical attitude toward plagiarism. Remarkably, the available evidence demonstrated that, when scholars are trained in research integrity, their attitude about this issue can be improved and changed,” the study notes.
Abdellah Benahnia, a part-time international researcher and professor at the Superior Institutions of Science and Technology, an associate college of the Cardiff Metropolitan University in Casablanca, Morocco, told University World News: “Plagiarism is not a unique phenomenon pertaining to Moroccan academic society only, but it is rather a universal problem that can be fixed.
“Perhaps exposing researchers and students alike to more in-depth courses and training sessions about research methods at an early stage would be more beneficial and may impede or put an end to the plagiarism issue,” Benahnia said.
“I suggest the integration of a business ethics module as a prerequisite because it is suitable for all categories of students and it reinforces awareness of the ethical issues related to research, including the consequences of plagiarism.”
A culture problem
Dr Abdennasser Naji, a former adviser to the Moroccan minister of higher education and president of education think tank the Amaquen Institute, told University World News: “In Morocco and across North Africa countries, plagiarism is more than a scientific problem […] It’s a cultural problem generated by social corruption and an inefficient educational system.”