Ohec warns unis on academic plagiarism

Ohec warns unis on academic plagiarism

The pomp, pledges and ceremony of graduation continue but academics warn there is a critical outbreak of plagiarism by teachers and professors using pirated essays, papers and theses. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)
The pomp, pledges and ceremony of graduation continue but academics warn there is a critical outbreak of plagiarism by teachers and professors using pirated essays, papers and theses. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

The Office of the Higher Education Commission (Ohec) has warned universities they are responsible for placing more emphasis on the quality of teaching, especially at the graduate level, after two cases of alleged thesis plagiarism at Silpakorn University were unveiled last month.

Ohec oversees higher education institutes at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Its secretary-general Arporn Kaenwong says the office is concerned over the allegations.

"We have told all unis to place more emphasis on post-graduate education quality, not just providing commercialised courses which attract students who are uninterested in learning but just want the degrees," Mr Arporn said.

He was referring to two cases of alleged plagiarism at Silpakorn University which attracted huge public attention and made newspaper headlines.

Jatuporn Donsom, a lecturer at Rajabhat Buriram University, claimed her 2008 Master's thesis titled "Ethnic Identity Creation of Vietnamese-Thais at Na Jok village, tambon Nong Yat, Muang district, Nakhon Phanom province" was partly plagiarised by a graduate student at Silpakorn University.

Ms Jatuporn said she demanded the university council investigate and revoke the graduate student's degree. She made the request in April last year, but nothing had happened.

Several days later, another case related to academic plagiarism was discovered by researcher Poe Limkul, which also took place at Silpakorn University.

Ms Poe shared images of Wattana Boonjub's 2009 doctoral thesis on Thai architecture on his Facebook, indicating Wattana had lifted some content for her PhD dissertation from a book titled Architecture of Thailand, written by Nithi Sthapitanonda and Brian Mertens in 2006.

Silpakorn University's Faculty of Architecture, where the thesis was submitted, has promised to investigate. It said the university is taking the matter seriously as the affair might damage its academic reputation.

The incidents are not the first cases of plagiarism to have cropped up in higher education institutions.

In 2012, plagiarism made international headlines when Supachai Lorlowhakarn, a director at Thailand's National Innovation Agency, retracted his PhD in science after Chulalongkorn University declared him guilty of plagiarising 80% of his thesis from the work of Wyn Ellis, a Thailand-based British agriculture researcher. Supachai's case put a spotlight on Thailand's lax policies towards plagiarism, and sparked concerns among academics across the country over the country's academic reputation.

Many Thai academic institutions were instructed to adopt computer programmes, such as Turnitin and Akarawisut, to detect plagiarism in theses submitted by their Masters and PhD students.

However, education critic Sompong Jitradup, said a handful of universities are now using such programmes to catch students, so the situation overall has not improved since Mr Supachai's case.

"As you can see in just the last week we heard of two cases, so for me it means plagiarism is still a serious issue. I suspect up to half the theses submitted by Masters students have not been checked by plagiarism detection software," he said.

Mr Sompong, who is also on the committee of the National Research Council of Thailand (NRCT), said a recent NCRT study about graduate students in Thailand found three important concerns.

The first is that most theses written by Masters students do not create new knowledge or ideas which benefit society or the economy.

Secondly, it found the ratio of thesis advisers to Masters students does not match what it should be in terms of quality standards, as advisers on average have to guide and work with more than 10 graduate students at a time.

He said the root cause of the problem comes from high-level competition between universities in post-graduate courses.

"Universities are now focusing more on quantity rather than quality. They are all using for-profit models. From my perspective, if they continue to push for greater student numbers, a Masters or PhD degree will be worth less and less soon," Mr Sompong said.

He added that when universities pack in too many students at the Masters level, it's hard to maintain or improve the quality of their services.

Lastly, there's a culture of plagiarism in Thailand.

Copying search results from the internet without any analysis has been accepted practice among students as they can pass exams or obtain degrees without any repercussions.

"The widespread acceptance of plagiarism is a serious matter as it could create a generation which lacks creativity and the ability to think analytically. We need to ensure our youth realise plagiarism is intellectual theft," he said.

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