South Asian students show ‘limited’ understanding of plagiarism

Researchers warn of knock-on effects for international publishing and student and staff mobility

August 8, 2022
Source: iStock

Many students in south Asia have a “limited” understanding of what constitutes plagiarism, a study across four countries has found.

Researchers collecting data from more than 1,500 learners reported that although students said that plagiarism should be avoided, they still “held beliefs that could lead to inadvertent malpractice in an international context”.

Only 67 per cent of students believed that copying text without mentioning the source would be considered cheating, found co-authors Sharon McCulloch, a professor at the University of Central Lancashire, and Bimali Indrarathne, a researcher at the University of York.

Despite reporting high levels of confidence in their understanding of plagiarism, students “were not fully aware of what really constitutes plagiarism or how to avoid it”, the researchers found.

The study, published in Higher Education Research & Development, also gathered opinions from 86 subject lecturers and 108 English teachers in the four countries – Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – and found that they too had an “inadequate understanding of plagiarism”.

“It seems to be assumed that because the teaching is in English medium, staff would already know about global norms that have been set in the anglophone context, but this is not the case,” Professor McCulloch told Times Higher Education.

While she conceded that “we don’t know if plagiarism is more common in south Asia than elsewhere”, she added: “We do know that it’s happening there and it isn’t being properly addressed because staff aren’t equipped with the appropriate training or tools, and policies are inadequate or unclear.”

Although more than 80 per cent of English teachers and subject lecturers in the four countries broadly agreed that plagiarism was taken “very seriously” or “fairly seriously” at their institutions, interviews showed a “lack of clear understanding” of institutional policies. Nearly all interviewees said there were no “hard and fast” rules at their universities.  

Universities need clearer institutional policies and embedding teaching about plagiarism into classes, argue Professor McCulloch and Dr Indrarathne.

Barring intervention, continued lack of clarity around plagiarism will make it more difficult for south Asian students and researchers – who are already underrepresented in global publications – to participate more in cross-border collaborations, Professor McCulloch warned.

“These south Asian countries have policies aimed at improving the quality of their HE, which includes internationalisation, by which they mean that they would like to have greater student and staff mobility: students going to study overseas and suchlike. Those students will be at a disadvantage if they don’t understand global norms around plagiarism.”


Print headline: Understanding of plagiarism ‘limited’ in Asia

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