South Korea

Plagiarism scandal spurs calls for new minister to resign

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2006, 12:00am

Less than a week into his new job, the education minister is facing calls to resign over plagiarism charges and allegations he fraudulently received government funding by duplicating the same paper in two academic journals.

Kim Byung-Joon, a former university professor, is alleged to have stolen survey data from a PhD student and published it in his own paper in 1987. But Mr Kim claims he helped the student, Shin Yong-woo, who died after receiving his doctorate, to build the framework of the survey on the understanding they would share the results.

But the explanation has failed to silence his critics. 'Kim is ethically and educationally unfit to be education minister,' the Korea Professors Union said.

The scandal snowballed last week after it was revealed that Mr Kim had received grants worth at least 105 million won (HK$868,000) for a series of papers, one of which was published in different journals under separate titles, but with identical content.

Mr Kim blamed the duplication on an administrative error by his assistant. 'I never knew about the overlap. Still, it is my fault that I did not make the final confirmation.'

The presidential Blue House is maintaining its support for the minister, who is a close confidante of President Roh Moo-hyun.

A spokesman said Mr Kim had made mistakes but not bad enough to warrant his resignation.

The controversy has severely dented the minister's reputation, and as the issue has grown, so too have calls for his resignation from opposition MPs and educational groups. The media has delved into Mr Kim's past. The Joongang Ilbo claimed to have revealed three further instances of papers being duplicated in different outlets for funding purposes.

The controversy has also highlighted the relatively weak systems for judging academic work in South Korea, where quantity has traditionally been emphasised over quality.

'I think this is typical of early stage academic systems ... it is only since the early 1990s that the Korean academic community has adopted US-based type evaluation systems,' Professor Park Gil-Sung, of Korea University, said.

The issue has fuelled long-held suspicions that some South Korean academics have been inflating the amount of research that they carry out.

'Generally speaking, the more publications, the easier it is to get funds,' Professor Park said.

But the education minister has reacted angrily to suggestions he has exaggerated his achievements, and accuses the media of distorting the truth and smearing his reputation. He has requested a parliamentary hearing.