Study points to benefits of getting to grips with plagiarism

A recent study argues that the quality of teaching, learning and research in Sub-Saharan African universities will improve if the key forms of plagiarism and factors or conditions that open up opportunities for plagiarism among students and academics are resolved.

The study, titled, ‘Plagiarism in Higher Education (PLAGiHE) within Sub-Saharan Africa: A systematic review of a decade (2012-22) literature’, published in Research Ethics on 21 August, was authored by Dickson Mireku, Prosper Dzamesi, and Brandford Bervell from the University of Cape Coast in Ghana.

Based on a systematic literature review of 171 plagiarism-related articles published in English emerging from universities and higher educational institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa over the past decade (2012-22), the study highlights some of the causes, forms, effects, preventive measures and challenges in dealing with plagiarism to promote quality teaching, learning and research.

The review shows that the yearly distribution of published articles discussing plagiarism increased over the period 2012 to 2022, but declined at the end of 2022.

Marginal increase in publications

Analysis of yearly publication trends revealed that articles related to plagiarism published from 2012 to 2022 increased by 10 (from six to 16) – an indication that, over the 10-year period, the discussions on plagiarism among higher institutions in the region have “seen a marginal increase”, according to the research paper. However, the most plagiarism-related articles (29) were published in 2016.

The study showed that the countries that produced most publications on plagiarism in higher education institutions over the 10 years were Nigeria (53 articles), Ghana (23), South Africa (19), Ethiopia (12) and Kenya (11).

In terms of geographical distribution of plagiarism-related publications, the review revealed that only a few studies concentrated on how plagiarism can be dealt with in the entire Sub-Saharan African region, and only one article focused on how to tackle plagiarism in East Africa as a sub-region, according to the study.

In terms of focus, the study indicates that most articles discussed students’ and faculty’s awareness or knowledge of plagiarism (31.6%).

Institutional preventive measures against the spread of plagiarism were the subject in 30.1% of the papers, followed by causes of plagiarism or reasons why academics or students plagiarise (17.7%). The focus on effects or consequences of plagiarism was the focus of 9.7%, while forms of plagiarism constituted 8.6% and the challenges involved in preventing plagiarism were the focus in only 4.3% of the articles.


The study suggests that the findings indicate that a majority of both students and faculty in Sub-Saharan African higher educational institutions are aware of plagiarism and understand what constitutes plagiarism.

It says that dominant forms of plagiarism include self-plagiarism, branded plagiarism and commission plagiarism.

While self-plagiarism results when a student or an academic reproduces their own prior works without fully acknowledging them, branded plagiarism is a form of ‘pick and use’ behaviour that involves using someone else’s ideas or works without giving credit to the original author. Commission plagiarism results when students buy papers or contract commercial thesis writers to compose work for them without properly acknowledging them.

The study revealed that the main causes of plagiarism were easy access to digital information and resources; poor supervision of students; pressure on academics to publish for promotion; and insufficient skills development regarding ethical academic writing.

The study noted that the effects of plagiarism on higher education institutions included: a defeat of the purpose of research enterprises; loss of quality research outputs; loss of academic and national integrity; loss of credibility of higher educational certificates; and loss of research funding opportunities.

In addition, the impact of studies on plagiarism seems to be limited. The study notes that the papers attracted only a few citations.

“The visibility of studies in the field is limited in the plagiarism-literature space for Sub-Saharan Africa,” the study notes.

The authors go on to argue that plagiarism does not seem to be widely discussed and documented, thus affecting the ability of higher educational institutions to understand its reputational effects.

The study notes that interventions to stop plagiarism, such as the use of plagiarism detection software and policies, face several challenges, ranging from a lack of well-trained academic experts to detect and report plagiarism cases to reluctance on the part of technical administrative staff to investigate works for traces of plagiarism. In some cases, there was a lack of punitive measures against students and researchers involved in plagiarism, according to the study.


In order to deal with these challenges, the authors recommend that ethicists concerned with quality research promotion increase their efforts in identifying and reporting plagiarism cases.

Furthermore, the authors suggest that institutions devise a broader, more encompassing approach to the problem at sub-regional level. This will help in the design of “all-country-inclusive” policies that take account of similar causal factors between countries.

The study also calls for more research to unearth newer kinds of plagiarism and says authors must be encouraged to conduct more studies based on the views of academics, students and administrative staff rather than stick to documentary desktop analysis. This would help in the formulation and implementation of appropriate policies aimed at reducing plagiarism in tertiary education in Sub-Saharan Africa, it argues.

It also recommends a standard quality assurance framework for assessing and communicating plagiarism cases among higher educational institutions in the region.

Professor Juma Shabani, the director of the doctoral school at the University of Burundi and the former director of development, coordination and monitoring of UNESCO programmes with a special focus on Africa, told University World News the study provides “important take-away messages” to higher education policymakers and decision-makers seeking to confront plagiarism which, he said, is considered a “poor academic practice and unethical behaviour”.

“African universities must make use of the paper’s recommendations by integrating them into their anti-plagiarism action plans to protect intellectual honesty and academic integrity, along with carrying out more plagiarism studies to raise educational and research standards,” Shabani said.