Academic plagiarism is nurturing and perpetuating the culture of corruption in Africa

Posted on October 22, 2013 12:11 am

Recent global ranking of Universities placed the top university in Africa University of Kwa Zulu Natal at number 381 followed at number 390 by University of Cape Town both from South Africa while the rest occupied positions below top 400 in the world. While at the university, one professor taught us that honesty is the most important value in the academic world. He made it clear that plagiarism is not in line with this world and for anyone who want to be flourish after campus cannot afford to falsify his academic work. According to him, being a professor and member of the academia carries with it special responsibilities towards students, colleagues, the university, the community of which the university is a part and the scholar’s own conscience. The then fifty two years old professor from Auckland, New Zealand made it clear to us that his primary responsibility was to observe academic integrity and ensure each one of us was worth being there by ensuring we upheld the highest moral code and ethical policies of the university. It is therefore alarming to learn African universities have been churning half-baked graduates who can barely write a paragraph worth a scholar’s time. Unending cases of lecturers being caught plagiarizing has exposed guilty of plagiarism and culture of falsification as well as fabrication in turn denting the credibility of education in Africa.

In Australia plagiarism is considered a crime and very inappropriate thing in the academic world and institutions of higher education have employed since time immemorial strict regulations against plagiarism of any kind. In African countries research show that when a student is found with plagiarized work most universities simply ignore or fail in their duties to annul such kind of work. In Uganda, few months back Makerere University which is the top University in East African region recalled more than 400 degrees after it proved female students had sexual affair with some lecturers while others were accused of plagiarism and eventually degree were annulled. After the incident became public, Makere University Vice Chancellor Professor John Ddumba Ssentamu said sanctions for plagiarism are clearly outlined in higher education standard operating procedures at the university and promised to take firm action for those caught plagiarizing. One would hope that all universities would work to detect plagiarism and encourage those who know to report it although that has not been the case in most African countries public and private universities. There is no doubt that plagiarism is not only an issue among undergraduate level but also professors in higher education.

To guarantee the future of Africa, governments must tackle plagiarism in universities and other academic institutions and shame the individuals and the institutions where plagiarism is prevalent. One of the most effective ways to tackle the menace is for government to install advanced monitoring system that would help in revealing these cases. I vividly recall the words of my professor that there is no compromise for those not upholding honesty because it is the foundation of academic life. Amid reports of academic plagiarism in African universities, education experts that I have met have decried individual acts and tainting academic institutions at college and university level. Plagiarism in the academic world is unacceptable and violators deserve stern and serious punishment and if I had my way they should rot in jail because the impact of a future president or minister like we witnessed earlier this year in Germany a minister being accused of having plagiarized someone else’s work is huge and end result is disastrous. Academic thieves are classic examples of people who do not want to work hard and do not understand the impact of plagiarizing other’s work. They should be labeled as thieves and their names published in public to deter other would plagiarists from doing so. The reason some of us succeed in life while other fails miserably finding themselves looking for money at their twilight is because they never adhered to the bottom line reality of education which is honesty, a foundation for success.

There are several factors that African universities must address otherwise the continent will be doomed. In West African countries of Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal online information has become the key to obtaining a degree because material is widely available at student fingertips to that does help them pass examinations and Universities there has been accused of failing to confront the challenge posed by online information and just like academicians students in colleges and universities are required to produce original research. One way to mitigate the menace is to have elaborate rules at the university to have lecturers declare their sources of revenue because some in Kenya and South Africa have been accused of receiving thousands of dollars in exchange for favors in awarding marks. In Zambia, there have been several cases where supervisor-supervisee relationships are said to be the order of the day in colleges and universities. In Australia, a supervisor is part and parcel of professional and ethical duty and not sexual partner or gluttons who sell the future of the societies to fulfill their greed for money. In Tanzania and Kenya, several universities are known to have supervisors who partly appropriates student’s work and therefore there is no way a student can use that work in any substantial manner in thesis because is not the sole creator of that work. In Malawi a local university supervisor descended to a conflict of interest under similar circumstances and could not evaluate the work that was already published with his assistance to a student who now works with a multinational company and who confessed to me how she the university award a degree to her despite the fact that work was partly produced by the university’s employee.

I wonder when will time come when authorship and ownership would involve different legal considerations. In Finland and other Baltic countries sponsored research may be written by someone but owned by the sponsor. However, in United Kingdom different rules apply if a lecturer brings in the grants and enters into a contractual relationship with students or research assistants to work under his supervision for student project like a relative at Cambridge University is doing with her masters and ethics in that country demand acknowledgment of the research team but that is rare in Africa. When it comes to plagiarism in the academic community there are grave consequences that could haunt two to three generations down the lines. In every continent with a sizeable university population like Africa one cannot fail to find numerous small sidewalk shops offering to write any thesis on any subject, for a price and a Kenyan case where a medical doctor has doctored his academic credential and cheated his way on top to post of hospital doctor that was exposed by local media. In thirteen African countries I have traveled most schools, pupils cheat on national and local exams with thousands of them having their results nullified. In Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda teachers are lambasted every year for encourage their students to cheat in national exams and a year can hardly pass in those countries without hearing teachers have been nicked for aiding and abetting examination cheating.

Recently the New Vision newspaper, Uganda’s leading daily reported how obtaining a degree is seen as much more important to achieving mastery of a subject. The following day its main competitor the Daily Monitor carried a story of how a Kenyan politician obtained a degree from a Ugandan University yet he has never stepped in Uganda. The said politician bought his degree in order to legitimize his political position that requires a minimum of degree in the country’s new constitution that was promulgated slightly over three years ago. It would not be an exaggeration to say that rampant graft and dishonesty are at every level of society in Africa but when dishonesty characterizes who African people are then there is problem. This was not the way pan Africanists like Milton Obote, Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Jomo Kenyatta, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda among others wanted to build African continent character and they took all opportunities to discourage corruption and dishonesty although some were said to have got drunk with power and ended up being corrupt. Me think there is need cleanse the entire education system of the scourge of plagiarism from head to toe. In Africa, it would be impossible to demand honesty from pupils at the lower and higher levels of education when dishonesty is rife at the highest levels of academia. If honesty will not become a virtue worthy of respect in African education system, the continent will be perpetuating and nurturing highly endemic culture of corruption for which the continent is famous for.

Contador Harrison