Arresting the mortal sin of academic dishonesty in higher learning

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Kanpur:

The rules of learning to ensure fair means and prevent academic dishonesty in the education system apply to both - students and teachers. Hence, the Union Government bringing out the Promotion of Academic Integrity and Prevention of Plagiarism in Higher Educational Institutions Regulations, 2018 through the apex regulator of higher education in the country is, indeed, a welcome step.

Although cheating at any level in academic pursuits has never been approved by the society in general, and the self-imposed moral discipline has been playing its role to maintain the academic integrity of the education system, such regulations are empowering the academic governance to prevent unethical practices of copying by the mentor and the mentee both - teachers and students in the higher education Institutions.

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There have been a large number of instances of academic dishonesty by copying someone’s work or idea and proclaiming it to be the work of the plagiarist. Deterrent created by these regulations is likely to create a difficult time for those engaged in ingenuine work leading to the award of various degrees and certificates.

However, the success of the positive intent behind it to enhance the originality of the academic activities will solely depend upon how the authorities responsible for promulgation of regulations and maintenance of the standard of higher education act upon them.

Since time immemorial, plagiarism has always been anathema to the society and the academics, in general, has been viewing such acts as mortal sin. To prevent such activities, the higher education system has the provision of seeking a formal certificate of originality in the work from the teachers supervising the students.

However, the practice of signing the certificate of originality by the supervising teachers seem to have become ritualistic, and there has been a spurt of cases of plagiarism which got detected due to the digitalisation of the knowledge created and shared across the globe. The unethical and irresponsible acts of academia need to be analysed with respect to the circumstances compelling for the same.

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Why do students and teachers alike resort to the unethical act of copying and Plagiarism?

The reasons appear to be one or more of the following:

The lack of academic confidence in the student to carry out the original work The inability of students in undertaking academic stress and absence of requisite support from academia The lethargic attitude or incapability or poor integrity of the respective supervisor The temptation for a shortcut to complete work without toiling for it The academic governance having no sensitivity to the work quality and originality The reduced academic rigor and absence of monitoring, leading to confidence building amongst  unethical practitioners The aim of attaining accomplishments in a shorter time The motivation from the success achieved by peers through the academic fraud The attitude of being ungrateful to creators of some knowledge The misuse of the authority vested in positions and academic systems

Whatsoever may be the driving potential for treading on the unethical path to complete the requirements for the award of degree/diploma, it is for sure that such practices fall in the category of egregious offence and demean the very purpose of higher education and gruesomely sacrifice merit.

The gradually declining genuinity of the work carried out in different courses is the reason for poor employability of the graduates and postgraduates from the higher education institutions in the country. Quality degradation is evident from the number of candidates with higher qualifications failing in proving the worth of the degrees possessed by them.

Now with the regulation for assuring academic integrity and preventing plagiarism being in place of getting treated as per its provisions will definitely prevail but the integrity in its judicious implementation needs to be ensured by the regulators. There have been reported instances of numerous senior academic people being accused of plagiarism in their academic and research outputs and in certain cases the ruthless action to the extent of termination has been taken, but the handling has not been alike in all the reported cases.

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Sometimes, those at apex positions in the higher education institutions have been accused of academic misconduct, but their positions of influence enable them to manoeuvre the truth in different ways such as getting their names deleted from the material in question or simply disowning them or through judicial intervention and seeking advantage of intricacies in the process. But even the raising of fingers upon the academic truthfulness of any member of academia should be considered the cause of concern because it will ultimately lead to credibility loss and act as nuclei for degenerating quality of academic/research activities for conferment of degree/diploma.

The academic dishonesty going scot free is also liable to infuse confidence in the perpetrators of academic fraud. This situation is corroborated by the prevailing reality in which some persons at the pinnacle in higher education Institution are surviving successfully in spite of being reported for having committed a breach of academic integrity.

Thus, apart from the regulations imparting legal force to act upon the hateful acts, much more important is to have people of high integrity having passion and reverence for academic, research and intellectual accomplishments as the leaders in the academic system. It does not require any reiteration that the prevalence of meritocracy in fixing the leadership of academic institutions will only help in checking the deterioration in the quality of higher education.

Further, those at the helm of picking up academic leadership need to understand that for effective institutional governance with high degree of integrity, the head of the educational institution should inevitably be chosen based on the relevant accomplishments, virtues, competencies and integrity in order to take the challenge of motivating the community of students and teachers for bringing in the quality in higher education.

Series of regulations will only help if these are executed by the Institutional governance in the true spirit to enrich the outcome of the higher education system in India.

(Dr Onkar Singh is the founder Vice Chancellor of Madan Mohan Malaviya University of Technology, Gorakhpur, UP. Currently, he is Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Harcourt Butler Technical University, Kanpur (UP). Professor Singh has rich experience of higher education system as a teacher, researcher, academic administrator and through his association with the governing bodies of large number of premier institutions and statutory regulatory bodies of the country.)

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