Academic Cheating is Defined as a Student

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In the academic community, where it is expected from scholars to create more original work contributing to the existing and ever-growing literature, plagiarism constitutes an immense problem. Plagiarizing an academic work might seem like an easy-way-out, as it is faster and simpler than putting forward an entirely original product, especially in an environment that lacks appropriate mechanisms to prevent and mitigate academic dishonesty (Rostovsev, 2017, p. 107). In fact, evidence from an array of countries reveal that plagiarism by students is becoming a much more diffuse and frequent problem (Park, 2003; Devlin, 2006), which could be associated with the growing presence of the Internet and the ease of access to different sources of information. The ringing question is, then, concerning how to deal with this persisting problem of academic dishonesty in this era of Internet and interconnectivity, and which policies to adapt to remedy this persisting and growing problem of plagiarism in the academic world.

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This study focuses on the very issue of plagiarism and tries to tackle this complex phenomenon in different aspects. Firstly, the definition of the concept will be inquired, and the lack of a universal definition of the term will be questioned. In order to illustrate the scope of the issue and the factors contributing to plagiarism will be investigated, with compelling empirical and theoretical evidence from the existing literature. Next, different policy approaches that can be implemented to mitigate the issue of plagiarism effectively will be discussed, followed by in-depth analysis of existing mechanisms in USA, Germany, Turkey, China, Russia and Indonesia, to illustrate these varying approaches to address plagiarism in these different contexts. These countries are not only some of the leading countries in number of scientific publications but are also some of the top R&D spending countries (Resnik, Rasmussen and Kissling, 2015). The case selection for this paper demonstrates the essential geographical, political and socio-cultural diversity, an array of evidence on occurrence of plagiarism as well as different policies in place to deal with it. In the last section of this paper, policies to address plagiarism will be discussed, and recommendations for an effective strategy will be presented. This paper aims to fully comprehend what plagiarism as a concept entails, and to explore sustainable and efficient solutions to this widespread problem.

As it can be seen from the definitions presented above, plagiarism has been defined as literary theft, and as a criminal an unethical act (Akbar, 2018). Park (2003) claims that the concept of plagiarism hints to stealing of words or ideas that are outside of the scope of general knowledge. The concept also denotes cheating by “using the intellectual property of another person without giving appropriate credit”, hence, unethical and unacceptable (Bilic-Zulle et al., 2008, p.140). Some scholars argue for a clear and universal definition for the concept of plagiarism (Kokkinaki et al., 2015), but practically there are several reasons for disagreement on a uniform understanding of plagiarism. Firstly, it is not an easy task to determine the scope of activities that should be considered as acts of plagiarism. Park (2003) identifies four different ways students plagiarize:

“(a) Stealing material from another source and passing it off as their own; (b) Submitting a paper written by someone else and passing it off as their own; (c) Copying sections of material from one or more source texts, supplying proper documentation (including the full reference) but leaving out quotation marks, thus giving the impression that the material has been paraphrased rather than directly quoted; and (d) Paraphrasing material from one or more source texts without supplying appropriate documentation.” (p. 475)

However, there may be other ways of plagiarizing that are excluded even from this extended list of actions. For instance, recycling one’s own published work without any acknowledgement could be considered as an act of plagiarism, however 90% of Chinese and Australian students indicated a lack of awareness of self-plagiarism as a form of academic misconduct (Ehricht et al., 2016, p. 242). This ambiguity makes it complicated for the term to be universally defined and applied, which is evident from the different definitions of and approaches towards plagiarism in different institutions and documents.

Academic dishonesty is an important issue, as there is an established connection between cheating in college and in future professional life (Bilic-Zulle et al., 2008, p. 140), therefore it is important to address the causes of such behavior by students. Plagiarism and other forms of academic misconduct might occur due to many different factors concerning “ignorance, opportunity, technology, ethical values, competition, and lack of clear rules and consequences” (Bilic-Zulle et al., 2008, p. 140). The literature on the subject focuses on mainly three distinct group of factors while exploring the reasons for why students plagiarize. These categories could be listed as (a) individual factors, (b) sociocultural factors and (c) institutional factors.

Individual factors concern the person’s own perceptions, knowledge, attributes and traits, which are influential in understanding why some people cheat. Plagiarism may result from ignorance or “lack of understanding” (Cosma et al., 2017, p. 8:2). There may be instances in which the person does not know proper methods of referencing (Park, 2003), which is one of the leading factors in plagiarism cases (Cosma et al., 2017). Engagement in learning (attendance, performance, preparedness) is identified as another important factor in understanding dishonest behavior in academia, which is inversely correlated with likelihood of cheating behavior (Shmeleva, 2015, p. 137). Another issue in understanding what constitutes plagiarism is related to motive and intention of the author (East, 2009). Plagiarism, in this approach, is reckoned as a planned behavior in this context, where the students are rational actors calculating costs and benefits of cheating (Shmeleva, 2015, p. 136). The problem here is that it might be difficult to read the intentions and motives of the person that committed plagiarism, which might lead to subjectivity in assessment of cases of plagiarism. In practice, a particular case of plagiarism might be seen as a serious transgression or an immaterial error that could be ignored (East, 2009, p. 40).

Makarova (2019) studied individual and motivational factors for plagiarism in Russia, Poland, Latvia and US, where he found that neutralizing attitudes of students are among the most important indicators for academic dishonesty. Neutralizing theory suggests that students tend to “neutralize self-blame by using rational reasons for their behavior and for explaining possible violations of rules” (Makarova, 2019, p.61). These rational reasons could include lack of confidence, ideas or knowledge, as well as difficulty of assignment or lack of instructions (Makarova, 2019, p. 61). In this context, students tend to think that these external reasons caused cheating to be a more appealing solution. It is suggested that in US, the level of self-blaming in acts of academic dishonesty is much higher due to high levels of self-regulation and individualistic perception of responsibility. McCabe et al.’s (1999) qualitative study supported these findings and identified other factors that can influence cheating, including pressure to get high grades, parental pressures, a desire to excel, pressure to get a job, laziness, a lack of responsibility, a lack of character, poor self-image, a lack of pride in a job well done, and a lack of personal integrity. (as cited in McCabe et al., 2001, p. 228) 

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