Plagiarism – What Can Curb The Scourge?
Does the high incidence of plagiarism among students in Nigeria point to the need for more support and mentoring for students or more effective sanctions against those found to be guilty? Or maybe both?
Earlier this year Professor Peter Okebukola, one-time executive secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), repeated his concerns about the rising rate of plagiarism among students in universities.
The previous November, during the first in a series of education lectures at Kwara State University, he claimed that 60% of long essays by final-year undergraduates contained plagiarism; at masters level it was between 15-20% and at PhD level about 8% contained plagiarism.
Worried about the erosion of academic values and the potent dangers of plagiarism, many academic staff are in favour of stiffer penalties against students and staff who aid and abet plagiarism.
Interviewed by Punch, Dr Daniel Ekhareafo, a lecturer at the University of Benin, said it rarely happens that a student is disciplined for plagiarism because lecturers intervene.
“The student can ask another lecturer to plead with the project supervisor and in some cases, the lecturer can compromise and ask for money in order to clear the student,” he reportedly said.
Professor Hyacinth Ichoku, vice-chancellor of the University of Veritas, Abuja, was of the view that there is insufficient mentoring of students by their teachers and awareness of the principles of research ethics.
He suggested the need for a series of workshops to look at the various dimensions of plagiarism and how to detect them.
He warned that proven cases of plagiarism could lead to court litigation where both the student and the teacher, and even the university could be slapped with sanctions and penalties.
“This kind of a scenario could be a source of national and international embarrassment to the university, especially in this era of university rankings,” he said in an interview with University World News.
Initiatives to stamp out the increasing plagiarism plague have been undertaken. For example, Dr Emmanuel Unuabonah, a chemistry lecturer at the Redeemers University at Ede in the south western region, created a movement known as the Nigerian Young Academy (NYA), an offshoot of the Nigerian Academy of Science (NAS) for young scientists.
Education about plagiarism pitfalls
The mission of this group of young scientists and researchers is to lead the fight against plagiarism by educating people about its pitfalls in a country which has more than 150 public and private universities and colleges.
At one of its anti-plagiarism workshops, the association recorded the presence of about 350 participants. In consonance with their mission statement, NYA has even dismissed one of its members who was found guilty of plagiarism and recently made what it called “improper copying” a dismissible offence.
There have been some high-profile cases of plagiarism in Nigeria. Academic publishers Taylor and Francis retracted a total of 10 publications written by Oluwaseun Bamidele, a specialist in terrorism, after it emerged that they contained plagiarism. Bamidele later admitted that he had plagiarised, and tendered his apologies. He told Retraction Watch that “he didn’t learn about what constitutes plagiarism until his graduate studies, after he’d already written the now-retracted manuscripts”.
“If I had known before then, it would not have happened,” he is reported to have told Retraction Watch.
Research suggests that in Nigeria, plagiarism is viewed as widespread. A 2010 survey of 133 Nigerian scientists, conducted by physician Patrick Okonta of Delta State University Teaching Hospital in Otefe and published in 2014 in BMC Medical Ethics, found that 88% believed plagiarism and other forms of misconduct were common at their institutions.
Sanctions for those staff committing plagiarism are not unheard of. According to a recent news report, the vice-chancellor of Delta State University (DSU) announced in May that in a bid to instil academic discipline and honesty, the institution had sanctioned more than 15 lecturers for various forms of publication-related plagiarism. According to a source at the university such sanctions involved demotions and no promotions for periods between three and five years.
In 2016, two lecturers of the University of Calabar, one of whom was a professor, were reported to have been dismissed for plagiarism.
One of the methods used throughout the world to fight plagiarism is anti-plagiarism software such as Turnitin, which screens text and identifies ‘borrowed’ material. The Committee of Vice-Chancellors (CVC) has developed an anti-plagiarism software which is yet to be launched due to lack of financial commitment from some universities who are yet to make their contribution for the full take off of the project.
At the computer science department at Lagos State University, a team of researchers led by Dr Toyin Enikuomehin has developed new, more sophisticated and more secure software to detect plagiarised works across institutions.
“We are still experimenting with this software. When we complete the test and with the support of the university authorities, we shall deploy it, first to the university and later beyond”, said Enikuomehin in an interview with University World News.
Enikuomehin said other factors aiding the increase in plagiarism included a lack of preparedness among students admitted into universities.
Lack of preparedness
“Many of those who have looked into plagiarism overlook one crucial factor: the admission of candidates into the university. Not all candidates given admission are intellectually equipped to handle concepts; this is an indispensable tool for an understanding of research methodologies,” he said.
He said this deficiency was coupled with the fact that the reading culture among students is poor.
“Before they get to their final year when they are mandated to plan and establish the framework for their projects, they are handicapped. Consequently the easiest route to writing their final year project is to plagiarise research papers developed by others in some other institutions. “This deficiency was observed in our research leading to the establishment of our anti-plagiarism software,” said Enikuomehin.
According to Dr Prisca Adewole, director of a multinational company which produces food and sanitary equipment, adequate funding of institutions is also a crucial factor.
“Research leading to the write-ups of final year project papers at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels requires the provision of standard laboratories and libraries so as to prevent the obvious temptation of copying works already published. We noticed this deficiency when we recruit graduates into our research units,” said Adewole.