Plagiarism is an academic problem that is widespread around the world. Despite the problem being a global one, it is viewed and received differently in various parts of the world. While Westerners are more serious about the issue, their Asian counterparts do not accord it the importance that it deserves. Most Asian universities give a blind eye to the issue of plagiarism in their institutions.
In recent years, the issue has become a serious concern to most scholars who perceive their intellectual work to be under threat. This has led many people to ask themselves why the plagiarism issue is accorded less importance in most Asian countries. This research paper views the role played by culture in increasing the rate of plagiarism in most Asian universities and especially in China. The research uses mainly secondary data from materials written on the issue. (Altbach, 2010)
There has been much talk on whether China as a rising power can stand the test of time. The figures posted from what is soon bound to become the second biggest economy indicate that China has already covered this distance and is even in a position for more growth. However, what is worrying is that most of what is happening behind these numbers is still shrouded in mystery. The country’s economic miracle that is based mainly on massive capital investments and the availability of cheap labor is now shifting its focus toward the next phase of economic development.
This next phase of economic development is mainly expected to be built upon novelty and design or what is referred to as the worth added factor of financial growth. This means that Chinese universities will in the near future be in the forefront in propelling the country’s economy in to its next level of economic growth. Although China boasts of a wide range of higher learning institutions, the quality of education is still wanting. The biggest concern in these institutions is plagiarism and the lack of intellectual veracity, which experts warn will deter the country from going to its next phase of economic growth. (Friedma & Gump, 2010)
In most Chinese universities, students undertaking English assignments rely upon interpreting Chinese sources into English then fail to acknowledge the real owners of the work. As if this is not bad enough, others simply cut and fix the references directly from Wikipedia. Although students have constantly been admonished to desist from the habit of copying other peoples work, the issue is still rampant in many universities. Threats of receiving a lower grade or being sent out of school have also done nothing to stop this behavior. It is not surprising to realize that this behavior has been hard to weed out since it has found its way into institutions of higher learning. It’s only by understanding why plagiarism and the lack of academic honesty are rooted in Chinese universities and how it can effectively removed will the country be able to move in the next level of economic growth. (Gill, 2008)
The issue of plagiarism and the consequent lack of academic values in Chinese universities is an intricate plot that is closely linked to the governments’ policy on intellectual property rights (IPR). This can also be traced to the government’s policy that seeks to promote the idea of a society that is harmonious in supporting stability. For a long time, countries in the West have been threatening China with sanctions if the tradition of piracy is not curbed in the country.
However, this has not been possible due to lack of commitment from the Chinese government. For IPR to be enforced there has to be an element of goodwill from the relevant bodies. This goodwill has been lacking in China hence contributing to the difficulty in curbing the vice. This culture for lack of respect for intellectual property rights has contributed greatly to the high rate of plagiarism in Chinese universities. (Gill, 2008)
Another issue that has led to the high level of plagiarism in Chinese universities has been how Chinese view the aspect of community. For a long time now, harmony has been an important value between the Chinese communities. The Communist government that ruled China for a long time did everything within its power to promote harmony since it viewed it as a key element in promoting stability in the country. While it is true that a strong sense of community gives rise to stability and harmony, it on the other hand takes away the importance of the individual. This powerful wave of a tightly knit community has taken on the idea that all parts of the community have the right of using anything within the community in the way that they deem fit.
This corporate use of the community belongings includes the ideas of individuals from that community. In this light, it becomes ridiculous for any individual to claim ownership of an idea as well as receive benefit from other members of the society for something that they own communally. Translated literally, this means that the society owns everything from property to ideas. It follows then that IPR cuts across the idea of community since it’s viewed that they create a competitive pool of personal ideas, which if unchecked can jeopardize the stability and togetherness of the community. This is another Chinese culture that has ultimately contributed to the high rate of plagiarism in the country’s institutions of higher learning. (Altbach, 2010)
Although this demonstration of community may seem extreme, taking this explanation and applying it to a class setting explains why plagiarism will remain to be a thorny issue in Chinese universities for along time to come. When most students write, they refer to statements learned in their basic schooling whose originality they do not know. All that the students remember is that their teachers have forever taught them that such wisdom must be learned.
For most Chinese students, learning the basic thing about any topic is the far they get in their learning. In order to perpetuate the notion of community, students are not allowed to have access of the tools that they can use to figure out why a certain thing is the way it is. According to the Chinese, the ‘why’ or ‘who’ behind these statements is irrelevant since they belong to the whole society. Due to their passage from one generation to the other, most of these ideas lose their original value and become obsolete.
Since the community owns these ideas, students are given the leeway to reproduce and use them in any way they want. Since the community owns all the ideas, respect for individual possession of ideas is not practiced and hence it becomes hard for students to give credit to the owner of the original idea. Although the idea of togetherness and stability coupled with strengthening the importance of the society over that of individuals is commendable, it is being used to stifle the role played by individuals in the community. This culture has given birth to a high level of plagiarism in Chinese universities. (Martin, 1994)
On top of plagiarism, China is a country that has less or no respect for academic degrees and honorary awards. The country also has a high level of academic deceit, which surpasses that of any other country in the world. This is partly due to the lack of importance that higher education is accorded in most Asian countries. Most of these countries have minimal resources set aside to promote higher education and the academic culture. More importantly, most degrees held by people in these countries have been found to be obtained through illegal means.
This clearly shows that an academic culture of integrity and meritocracy is yet to be founded in these countries. One thing that these Asian countries and especially China fail to notice is that on top of building universities, one has to strive in order to make them meet the world standards. There is the need to organize academic life and lay down strategies that one should follow while undertaking their research. In China, most of the academic appointments are not based on the worth of the person but rather on how well a person is connected.
In other cases, some institutions of higher learning only pick candidates who are alumni of their institutions. This is done without looking at how qualified the person is to hold the position. In other cases, corruption plays a key role during admissions or even during exams. This makes it hard to get qualified personnel to fill places of influence in academic institutions. Unless this issue is addressed, China will continue having plagiarism related problems in its institutions of higher learning. (Martin, 1994)
For the academic culture to be completely changed there is the need of concerted efforts from all concerned parties. As it is today, there are established traditions of appointments and promotions that have been entrenched in most universities. In most universities, what matters is not the quality of work but its quantity. In China and majority of other Asian countries, seniority is respected and the word of those in authority is taken as law.
Most Chinese universities have also not yet figured how they can combine the standards used in the west in to their Asian values and customs. By the look of things, this might not be achieved anytime soon. Although the western standard for academic culture and university composition is used as the international point of reference, the model might not be applicable in every institution in the world. One thing that clearly comes out from this is that while building universities requires only money, cultivating a workable academic culture that incorporates high level teaching and research requires not only time but thought as well.
There is need for governments to do more than just having the desire to form world-class universities. There is need to look for ways of addressing the “supple culture” that has been the norm in most Chinese universities. This includes addressing the norms and values that have led to the current research model. One thing that should be put in to perspective is that creating the current research university took a long time an therefore much time is needed in transforming it. (Ary, et. Al, 2006)
Although it is not an easy task, there is need for China and other Asian countries to put more emphasis to developing a learning culture of honesty and decency. There is also the need for creating an academic freedom that gives autonomy to institutions of higher learning. There is also the need for creating a career ladder and coming up with strategies that ensure all performance in academics is evaluated. This will ensure that people pursuing their educational goal are dissuaded from plagiarizing their work.
Above all, there is need of recognizing the benefits of maintaining values in all the operations of a university. By looking closely, one will realize that there are serious ethical challenges that are being experienced even in western universities. Today, corporations that have transformed themselves in to commercial centers own most of these universities. The traditional good mission of universities is forever being eroded something that is creating tensions between different stakeholders. Overall, the current period is presenting one of the biggest challenges that the academic profession has experienced in a long period. The situation is even more complex in China where there has never been an established model for academic integrity and values. This has definitely led to the rise of plagiarism levels in universities. (Ary, et. Al, 2006)
Despite the fundamental differences in values that exist between the west and China, there are things that we cannot claim that China is ignoring. On the issue of plagiarism, there is a small variation between how the west and China do things. It would be unfair to claim that the whole education system in China condones plagiarism. On top of this, not all Asian countries can be said to be encouraging students not to acknowledge other peoples ideas and innovations. Anyone claiming this is obviously redressing the truth. In China, the high-level plagiarism cases are widely criticized by both scholars and university personnel.
Another difference that presents itself clearly between the west and China is on the weight put on referencing. While it is true that most scholars in China are known to “under” reference, their western counterparts tend to overdo it. Most references used by western scholars are actually irrelevant and fail to serve any purpose. There is a tendency by small authors to use many references from established authors to boost their own credibility. Such kind of work cannot therefore be termed to be authentic. While under referencing is a serious issue, people should not be vilified based on those who overdo the whole exercise. (Martin, 1994)
In order to curb the vice, China has come up with modalities to reduce cases of fraud and plagiarism in its universities. The country’s Academic Degrees Committee of the State Council came out with a list detailing the punishments for students suspected of plagiarizing their work. One of this includes the schools postponing or refusing to issue degrees to the affected students. On an extreme level, the commission proposed revoking issued degrees for students who were thought to have plagiarized their work.
On top of this, the tutors monitoring students who plagiarize their work are also at a risk of being suspended or relieved of their duties. According to the country’s ministry of education, the findings of the inquiry into the plagiarism issue are to be tagged on the victims profile and released to the public. The relevant committee also recommends that schools should strengthen the teaching of moral principles to students and their teachers. Although this is the case, the committee states that there is need to protect the rights of affected students to ensure that they are not accused unfairly. (China Daily, 2010)
While the idea of playing tough on students found plagiarizing is plausible, it remains to be seen how effective it will be. The concerned parties might not accept the concept of punishing tutors for the mistakes made by their students. While a tutor is supposed to act as a guide for a student, it is wrong to assume that students will always act on their instructions. It is therefore important to come up with proper modalities to ensure that tutors are not penalized for mistakes that are not their own.
On the other hand, it will be hard for most Chinese students to grasp the concept of non-plagiarized work since this is not something they have grown up embracing. Despite the laid down measures, there is still a high rate of plagiarism cases in Chinese universities. This can be blamed on the lack of proper academic supervision from the government. It is important to constitute a supervising body that comprises of experts to aid in examining papers that are suspected to be plagiarized. The idea of simply relying on tutors to monitor their students is putting too much pressure on them. (China Daily, 2010)
The problem of plagiarism is not a new concept in China. China is famed as one of the countries with the highest rate of academic fraud and plagiarism in the whole world. This is mainly due to the country’s lack of respect for academic qualifications. In China, an appointment into influential position in an academic institution is mainly based on the connections that one has with the people in authority. This leads to selection of unsuitable people to head these academic institutions.
Alternatively, many Chinese universities do not go out of their way to look for qualified people to head the institutions but instead make the appointments from a list of their alumni. This leads to unqualified people being chosen to head these institutions. In many cases, these people carry on their trend of condoning plagiarism in institutions of higher learning. This has been a major reason why China’s universities still have a high rate of plagiarism.
Under communism, the idea of community is stressed. This gives all the ownership of the community’s belongings including ideas to the community. This culture of communal ownership has played a big role in increasing the level of plagiarism in Chinese universities. Most university students find it hard to acknowledge and give credit to an individual for an idea that they view as belonging to the public. To most Chinese students, plagiarism remains a foreign word to them.
Due to widespread criticism from western scholars, the country’s Academic Degrees Committee of the State Council has declared war on plagiarism and academic fraud in general. The stiff penalties handed on offenders have served to reduce the vice and brought back the much-needed sanity in Chinese universities. However, of importance is to realize that these changes cannot be achieved within a short period and hence the need for patience and goodwill from all concerned parties.
Altbach, P. (2010) Academic Fraud and the Academic Culture in China – and Asia. Web.
Ary, D. et. al. (2006). Introduction to Research in Education. Seventh Edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.
China Daily. (2010). China Cracks Down on Academic Fraud, Plagiarism. Web.
Friedma, P. & Gump, A. (2010) Plagiarism and China’s Future Economic Development. Web.
Gill, J. (2008) Cultural Insight Can Help Tackle Plagiarism. Web.
Martin, B. (1994). Plagiarism: A Misplaced Emphasis. Journal of Information Ethics. 3 (2). 36-47.