Finding a cure for the plague of plagiarism

It’s no secret that technology has become an integral component of the academic industry. It has also, on the other hand, made it easier for dishonest and lazy scholars to survive the academic pressure, according to experts.

Like other developing countries, Tanzania is not spared when it comes to educational plagiarism.

A 2014 survey by The Inter-University Council for East Africa (IUCEA) released some stark and disturbing insights into the status of Tanzania’s higher education.

Covering about 100 public and private universities in the five East African countries of Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi, the survey found that 61 percent of graduates in Tanzania was ‘half-baked’, ‘unfit for jobs’ and ‘lacking job market skills’.

Experts believe that technology has played a role in the production of ineffectual employees in the country’s higher learning institutions.

A survey conducted by Success has established that apart from being a useful ingredient in education, technology provides an easy ride for lazy academics in varsities.

A majority of interviewed students in four universities admitted that they had engaged in the practice at least once in their assignments or research projects. Ten out of 15 students admitted to having done it on a regular basis without being noticed by their supervisors.

“To be honest, the internet has made it easier to plagiarise. I personally lifted materials from the net to complete my undergraduate research project,” says a Master’s student at a local institution (name withheld) .

“Were it not for the internet, maybe I would not have graduated because I knew nothing about research projects even after having been taught,” says the student who is now struggling to write his Master’ degree research proposal as his new college has adopted plagiarism checker technologies.

“I blame lack of expertise in my previous university, especially when I was a student there from 2013 to 2016. If there was a technology that could detect plagiarised work, we could have been caught and probably punished.”

A student at Tumaini University Makumira, who spoke on condition of anonymity argues that only a few individuals were really conducting their own research and class assignments, especially at undergraduate level.

She says most lecturers either lack the knowledge to detect plagiarised work or they just ignore while a few of them don’t have the time to critically look at students’ work.

“Most of our universities have staff shortages. This gives room for students to use fraudulent ways to graduate. I have a friend who just took someone’s work in the library, proposed the same research topic, copied everything and managed to graduate,” she says.

She shares that students are still copying online publications, especially when doing group assignments or individually and passing them off as their own.

“I don’t think some lecturers are keen on these issues, they could have noticed even the kind of English we use,” she observes.

What the lecturers say

A lecturer from Tumaini University who preferred anonymity confirmed the existence of such practices at the institution.

“I cannot deny it because it is very common in our institutions. We have cases where some of our colleagues assign or approve projects that already exist in the institutions’ libraries. Why not produce half-baked graduates?” He questioned, adding that most of them were ignorant of the use of online detectors.

“In institutions that don’t pay highly, lecturers may notice plagiarised work but take it as an opportunity to get bribes,” he adds.

A department head at St Augustine University (name withheld) says as far as the internet is concerned, attempts to plagiarise have been on the rise. “As a result, we have recently adopted a software to mitigate the practice.”

Possible solutions

University of Dar es Salaam Vice-Chancellor, Prof William Anangisye, agrees that plagiarism and other fraudulent acts are a global challenge. However, he says, the problem is worse in developing countries including Tanzania.

He suggests that universities have to design strong mechanisms to mitigate the challenge to enhance the quality of graduates.

“We have to have a solid foundation for our institutions. At Udsm, we’re continuing to build and maintain the foundation in this era of technology,” he says.

“We’ve adopted the Turnitin software, which detects the originality of academic works. For instance, since we adopted this software, our post-graduate students’ proposals must be subjected to the software to determine the percentage of one’s own work,” he tells Success.

“If we realise that somebody has plagiarised, we immediately revoke their proposal and we have discontinued some students as a result of plagiarism. We are very strict on this because we are determined to produce independent thinkers.”

Universities must be harsh in the implementation of proper requirements of a higher learning institution, according to Prof Anangisye.

“The kind of lecturers we employ here must pass through a thorough vetting process and whenever we realise that one of them has committed ‘academic corruption’, we immediately take action. This is what we have to do if we’re to enhance production of quality graduates,” he says.

Education analysts say that universities can still curb the rampant fraudulence among academia. However, they caution that hesitation to adopt proper technologies will make the journey even longer.

“There is a myriad of lazy students/researchers who don’t want to go through any form of academic stress, but rather want cheap results,” says Dr Thomas Jabir, an education consultant. “They simply copy other people’s write-ups and make little or no changes to the content. Technology can as well curb this kind of practice,” he adds.

Dr Jabir proposes that university libraries could be designed in a way that they can be able to check citations and references of intellectual works of former students.

“Today, there are standard and effective online plagiarism checkers, our libraries can easily subscribe to such detectors including the most popular ones like Turnitin and WriteCheck,” he says. Dr Margret Nkya an education analyst and former Unicef expert, says that ignorance and poor IT systems have made it difficult for local universities to defeat the plague of plagiarism.

“Technologies are available, but some institutions do not have expertise to use the checkers to monitor their student’s work. This is why we have a lot of half-baked workforce in the labour market.”

“Lecturers, research supervisors and the institutions’ management should strive to ensure that honesty is adhered to by students. Technology has made it easy for students to plagiarise, but it can also be used to curb this problem,” she observes.

According to the Tanzania Commission for Universities procedures for handling academic dishonesty, institutions should have in place disciplinary machinery for handling academic dishonesty as required by law. The procedures indicate that institutions should require candidates to submit electronic copies as well as hard copies of assignments, project reports, dissertations, theses and any other materials submitted for the purposes of examination or assessment to authenticate originality.