Three Questions on Plagiarism and Chulalongkorn University

Recently I was asked to do an interview with an online newspaper on higher education on the plagiarism by a student at the university. The incidence has sparked worldwide attention. The news article is here, and below is the full text of my interview:

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1. Do you think this case which has received quite international attention, would affect the reputation of Thai research?

Perhaps so, but it actually depends. If the university (Chula) is really serious in tackling this case, then it will send a signal to the world community that it strives to adhere to the internationally accepted academic standard. In order for Chula to be a player in the international arena, it has to abide by the rules, which were designed for the benefits of the academic community as a whole. In the end, adhering to these internationally accepted rules will only strengthen the university itself because plagiarism really is a practice that undermines all the values that a university as a place of learning and investigating and critical inquiry stands for.

So I think how the reputation of the research community in Thailand will be perceived depends very much on how Chula handles this case. The university has just revoked Supachai’s Ph.D. degree. This is a step in the right direction. It is also installing a university-wide program of attacking plagiarism and other academic misconducts at all levels, from undergrad students on up to the faculty members themselves. So it appears to be very serious on the issue.

2. Do you think plagiarism is widespread or growing in Thai educational system? Why?

Unfortunately I have to say it is still very widespread. The problem is that it is so widely practiced that no one seems to think that it is wrong. Or it is because no one think it’s wrong that it is widely practiced. Any way Thai educational authorities should be doing something to combat this. There is a reason why plagiarism cannot be tolerated in an academic community. To plagiarize means you are taking ideas from others without giving them their due credit. In academic life there are few rewards — the salary of academics is not so great as we know. So the few rewards that academics have consist in their being recognized as a discoverer or a founder of ideas or research findings. The way this is recognized is through the system of citation (footnotes, etc.). So this is very important for academics. Having plagiarism destroys all this, so citation becomes meaningless if plagiarism is allowed. This is something even some seasoned Thai academics are not aware of. So we need to start from the ground up. The way students do their papers in primary and secondary schools is really pathetic. Teachers don’t teach their students that cutting and pasting is wrong. Term papers are not for cutting and pasting, but they are a place where students can explore thoughts and ideas of their own and on their own.

3. Do you think the measures that Chula took against Supachai could prevent or stop plagiarism issue?

I hope so. As I said it is a step in the right direction. As for whether this can stop plagiarism at least within the university depends on how serious the university is taking this issue. If they (Chula administrators) do this just as a kind of knee jerk reaction to the Supachai case and forget about it after a while, then nothing will be changed. Fortunately perhaps, many of Chula faculty do not tolerate plagiarism and they always take measures against this on their own. But I have to admit that not all Chula faculty are like this. And with only individual effort what can be accomplished are only those courses that these faculty are teaching. Those who don’t care much about plagiarism can let their students off the hook easily. In the end if this is allowed to continue the university as a whole will certainly suffer. So there must be a system-wide monitoring system that sees what *all* faculty members are doing in this respect. This looks like an encroachment of the freedom of the faculty, but the Supachai case has taught us that Chula faculty cannot always be trusted, so the administrators have to install such a system. This can be a part of the quality control system that the university is being crazy about.

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