By Claire Aitchison
It could be easy to think there is a ‘plague’ of cheating and plagiarism in education across all parts of the world implicating all levels of authority and scholarship, including doctoral study.
Putting aside the media thirst for scandal and the fact that some accusations may be politically motivated, stories of plagiarism and cheating in the attainment of PhD qualifications occur remarkably frequently. But how are we to interpret these scandalous stories? How widespread is doctoral plagiarism in reality? And how should we act/react as supervisors who value genuine scholarship, rigour and truthfulness in research and research writing? What are the losses from cheating and plagiarism, and who are the victims?
Plagiarism is a high voltage word – it conflates numerous historical, cultural, linguistic and behavioural properties into one big sin. To be accused of plagiarism in any country or context is a big deal that can carry severe penalties. For individuals personal and professional fallout is inevitable, irrespective of the facts (which may explain why these stories attract so much attention in the volatile world of politics). When plagiarism involves stealing from other doctoral theses, it is abundantly unfair to the original scholar and makes a mockery of their labours. There is also reputational damage to the institution. PhDs attained by unscrupulous means undermine the value of a doctorate for everyone involved in scholarly work and research.
Is it getting worse?