Whistleblowers: Plagiarism charge

January 5, 2001

The emergence of a new international distance learning accreditation organisation, the Educational Quality Accrediting Commission, has ruffled a few feathers.

The Open and Distance Learning Quality Council, the long-established government-backed UK body for the accreditation of open and distance learning, is particularly concerned about EQAC.

EQAC has plagiarised large sections of ODLQC's published academic and management "standards", the benchmarks on which accreditation is based.

David Morely, ODLQC chief executive, said: "The work of this commission is based on what it claims are its own standards for open and distance learning. But many of these have been copied, virtually word for word, from ODLQC, taken without acknowledgement, without permission and in clear breach of our copyright."

One of ODLQC's standards on information to students reads: "Prior to enrolment on a particular course, the prospective learner is made properly aware of all terms and conditions relevant to that course, either in the prospectus or similar material, by correspondence, or in discussion with the provider." In the EQAC's otherwise identical corresponding standard, the word "learner" has been changed to "student" and the word "provider" becomes "educational institution". Dozens of other standards are nearly identical.

Mercedes Lopez, acting secretary of EQAC, has written in response to Mr Morely's complaints: "We liked the way many things that ODQLC proposed were written, and it was my fault to copy directly some of those things into our set of standards instead of rewriting and paraphrasing the contents." She said she would rewrite the text to avoid plagiarism but stressed the content would remain the same.

EQAC says on its website that it is an "international independent body", registered in Europe (United Kingdom) and the United States in 1999. It claims to be an initiative of the Together in the World Foundation, which it says has been an official programme of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation since 1996.

However, a Unesco official told The THES : "The division of higher education has no knowledge of EQAC." As The THES went to press, Unesco researchers were trying to ascertain if EQAC had any links with other divisions of Unesco.

Ms Lopez said that the foundation "has not much experience in the field of education, so we hired some experts to get some advice. We expect EQAC to be a successful educational project capable of setting minimum educational standards."

Middlesex settles unfair dismissal case

Middlesex University has reached an out-of-court settlement with Judith Abrahams, the administrator the university unfairly dismissed after 25 years' service because a dean wanted to get rid of her for personal reasons.

The THES reported in July that the North London Employment Tribunal found that Middlesex had "completely overlooked an essential safeguard" of workers' rights when it dismissed Mrs Abrahams from her job as a student loans and events administrator last year. Campus dean Brian Hipkin, the tribunal said, sought to ensure Ms Abrahams was dismissed on grounds of redundancy even though "it was not a genuine redundancy".

Initially, the university said it would appeal against the decision. Vice-chancellor Michael Driscoll hailed Mr Hipkin and other senior staff who were criticised for their role in the affair as "a credit to the university" who "had nothing to reproach themselves for".

The university was due to face the tribunal last month to determine costs and remedies, but it pulled out at the eleventh hour and reached a settlement with Ms Abrahams.

  • Want to blow the whistle? Contact Phil Baty on 020 7782 3298 or email him on  phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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