Rules on academic cheating 'lack bite'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:03pm


Tough regulations to be introduced at mainland universities later this year will do little to counter rampant plagiarism and falsification of academic papers and qualifications, or deter institutions from covering up offences, a number of academics say.

As the list of disgraced academics grows longer, instances of scientific fraud continue to damage China's reputation as an innovator and its ambition to become a global leader in research.

The Ministry of Education is seeking public comment until August 16 for its draft regulation against academic fraud in higher-learning institutions. Under the proposal, colleges will disqualify applicants for graduate, postgraduate, or doctoral degrees if they commit plagiarism or fraud in their degree theses. Further bans could be imposed on obtaining other degrees for three years from any university or institute. Degrees that have already been awarded shall be revoked if such misconduct is found.

Tutors of students who commit fraud could also be suspended, removed from their posts or even sacked, and universities or institutions with multiple plagiarism incidents could be disqualified from granting degrees by the State Council or provincial academic degree committees.

The results of investigations into academic fraud will be written into a violators' academic records. If the student is a civil servant or an official at a government department, the records will be made available to superiors.

Ghostwriters, either for students or teachers, will also be punished.

Despite such far-reaching rules that target all people involved in plagiarism, some educators doubt these will expunge deep-rooted academic habits.

'Maybe the intention of the authorities is good. But I don't think the new rules are feasible,' said Chen Yongjiang, an 84-year-old retired professor from Xian Jiaotong University in Shaanxi province.

'First, there is no specific definition of what constitutes plagiarism or fraud in the regulations. What will be the benchmark for ghostwriting, plagiarism or faking results? Will it apply, say, to 20 or 30 per cent or more of the content of original works? How about those who modify the wording of what they copy?' Chen said.

The new regulations do not mention any restrictions on academics who falsified their academic credentials and achievements. And there's no encouragement or protection for those fighting to expose the imposters,' Chen said.

In 2009, Chen and five retired professors accused their former colleague of falsifying research. Chen said the university officials had tried to pressure the retired professors not to press the case. 'What an insult to China's academia that university presidents let plagiarisers go unpunished but blame others like us for the disturbing the peace and reputation of the university.'

Xiong Bingqi , deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, said the penalties against fabricating research or credentials were low on the mainland because school leaders often tried to bury plagiarism scandals.

'It becomes rampant, even a culture, with many students and professors seeing it as perfectly acceptable behaviour,' Xiong said, 'It's hard to say who should be responsible for the original sin, but we only see increasing instances of fakery, many involving university presidents and nationally lionised researchers. Plagiarisers often go unpunished, which only encourages more of it.'

On July 29, a professor was sacked after he admitted committing plagiarism and faking his academic credentials, saying he had a PhD from Yale University and master's degree from the University of Toronto.

Lu Jun , 39, plagiarised two academics with the same pinyin spelling of their name (but different Chinese characters) at those institutions and was a candidate for a government-sponsored programme that recruited foreign professionals when he was exposed. Under the programme, Lu would have been entitled to receive a 500,000 yuan (HK$613,000) subsidy.

A week ago, Fu Jin , a professor at Xiamen University, was dismissed when it was discovered she had falsely claimed to hold a PhD from Columbia University. Fu worked as a visiting professor at Xiamen University from 2004 and won a full-time teaching job in 2009 with her fake credentials.

'As academics, we all know the problems are rampant,' said Helen Jiang, a PhD graduate in Guangdong. 'I saw a professor from another college had the audacity to pay my colleague to write a paper for him, without a hint of shame.

'That professor even used the paper to successfully apply for a three-year research grant of 75,000 yuan.


This is the proportion of the 9.57 million students who cheated on the national college entrance exam in 2010, education authorities say