Edited By Salim Razı, Irene Glendinning and Tomáš Foltýnek
This book is an outcome of the 4th International Conference «Plagiarism across Europe and Beyond» organized by Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University, Mendel University in Brno, and the European Network for Academic Integrity. The conference is co-funded by the Erasmus+ Strategic Partnerships Programme of the European Union. It aims to be a forum for sharing best practices and experiences by addressing issues of academic integrity from a wide-scope global perspective. With regards to the crucial role of ethics and honesty in academic work, universities are in need of more effective policies against infringements of academic standards. The papers in this book therefore aim to contribute to the standardization of consistent and transparent approaches to issues of academic integrity from several perspectives.
Insights into University Students’ Perceptions about Plagiarism (Muhammad Ramzan / Muhammad Asif / Hina Adeeb)
Abstract: Society expects our university students to be skilled and innovative while maintaining an ethical approach in all aspects of life. However, the emphasis on high grades and digital world realities has posed serious concerns related to cheating and plagiarism in our academic institutions globally and in Pakistan particularly. Data was collected on 24 statements adopted from Pritchett’s study through a questionnaire survey. A stratified sampling was used to select a sample of 1,500 respondents from 25 universities across Pakistan. The understanding and beliefs about plagiarism of the 1,061 participating university students varied significantly. Their perceptions about universities’ tolerance and professors’ leniency towards plagiarism pose a serious threat to scholarly pursuits. Findings also revealed that students present various excuses such as course pressure, fear of loss of scholarship, and instances of peers cheating in order to justify their own incidences of plagiarism. Findings of this study, if implemented, will help in combating the plague of plagiarism more effectively.
Keywords: attitudes, Pakistan, perceptions, perceptions about plagiarism, plagiarism, university students
Universities, being the highest seats of learning, focus on the creation of new ideas and knowledge. Their graduates are expected to learn skills, technologies and techniques to solve the problems of society and explore opportunities for further development through critical thinking and innovations in their own way. Students and researchers need to go through what has already been done in their areas of interest and concerns so that they need not to re-invent the wheel, but create new knowledge and discover innovative means of resolving the issues of ← 77 | 78 → society. The most critical aspect of new knowledge creation is to first understand what has already been done in a specific area and then make that previous research a basis for further research. Therefore, review of the relevant literature becomes the foundation for further research. Students have options and opportunities to search and find papers relevant to their fields of inquiry. At the same time they do face the pressure and sometime extreme stress of doing so many things at a time; say, attending classes, enjoying their social life, making presentations, doing multiple class work, exams and assignments along with writing papers and theses. Alongside these compulsions; many a time there are opportunities to copy others’ ideas and contributions and cheap solutions coming their way through the Internet and paper mills.
Despite students’ constraints and opportunities to cheat and plagiarise, graduate students are expected to maintain a high level of integrity and fairness and remain true to the ethics and morals of their society, while appearing in exams and conducting research. A number of studies on different aspects of cheating and plagiarism in academia by (McCabe, 1999, 2005; McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 2001; Ramzan, Munir, Siddique, & Asif, 2012) revealed the grave situation academic institutions are facing with respect to rising incidents of cheating, especially plagiarism. They have reported that not only does plagiarism exist but despite efforts to curb plagiarism, it is on the rise amongst students in academic institutions. They have further mentioned that in each institution and country, students’ understanding of plagiarism may differ. As a result, students may commit plagiarism unintentionally and when detected could be penalised for intentional plagiarism, that is punishable. It is therefore important to first examine students’ understanding of plagiarism before developing strategies that can be effective in promoting integrity and morality in academia.
Students’ Perceptions about Plagiarism
Theories in human psychology indicate that a deeper understanding of an individual or groups’ views on an issue are critical for changing their attitudes and behaviors towards that particular issue. Similarly, university policies about plagiarism exist but the understanding of each student regarding plagiarism may differ. A study of perceptions allows us to imbibe sensory information and make it into something meaningful (Ashworth, Bannister, Thorne, & Unit, 1997; Gullifer & Tyson, 2014; McCabe et al., 2001).
Razera, Verhagen, Pargman, and Ramberg (2010) found that there is a difference in opinions and perspectives about plagiarism among students and educators because of cultural conditions, social differences and language barriers. Owunwanne, ← 78 | 79 → Rustagi, & Dada (2010) argued that many factors including age, gender, social status, beliefs and individual perceptions about cheating, absence of the threat of being caught or convicted, and observation of peers and friends cheating/plagiarizing while circumventing exposure contribute to determining student perceptions about plagiarism. Similarly, the availability of ready resources on the Internet can change students’ perception towards copy-pasting (Rehman & Waheed, 2014).
According to several researchers (e.g., Ashworth et al., 1997; Bennett, Behrendt, & Boothby, 2011; Gullifer & Tyson, 2010; Gullifer & Tyson, 2014; Halupa & Bolliger, 2013; Higbee & Thomas, 2002; Owunwanne et al., 2010; Power, 2009; Scanlon & Neumann, 2002), although human beings differ in nature and so do their ethical belief systems, a student may be encouraged to cheat because of the prevalence of a particular academic culture and norms, weak preventive and punitive measures by the institution, classroom pressures, assignment submission deadlines, and the race to get good grades to obtain rewards and better employment opportunities.
Park (2003) and other studies such as Bennett et al. (2011) and Sutherland-Smith (2005) found a great deal of variation in the students’ beliefs and understanding of plagiarism. Barrett and Malcolm (2006) in a cross-cultural exploratory study, and (Magnus, Polterovich, Danilov, & Savvateev, 2002) contended that academic dishonesty and cheating phenomena correlate with a country’s overall corruption index. Rogerson and McCarthy (2017) have pointed out the easy availability and increased use of internet-based paraphrasing tools for the processing of existing published content for academic use. Modern originality-check software has shown poor performance in detecting this content (Rogerson & McCarthy, 2017). No systematic gender bias has been reported in the severity of penalties for plagiarism in Sweden. Moreover, female students are less prevalent in plagiarism cases as compared to male students. Female students do not admit their involvement in plagiarism cases to the same extent as male students (Witmer & Johansson, 2015). Fish and Hura (2013) found students reporting they had never committed plagiarism; however, they think other students are more likely to commit all types of plagiarism. Similarly, students think some types of plagiarism are more serious than other types. Kokkinaki and Lakovidou (2015) in their study in Cyprus have emphasised the need for clear and uniform definitions of plagiarism and academic dishonesty as well as the communication of these definitions to the students and faculty. The study has also reiterated the usefulness of software for detecting plagiarism (Kokkinaki, Demoliou, & Iakovidou, 2015). ← 79 | 80 →
Plagiarism in Pakistan
Academic institutions in Pakistan are also confronted with the issue of plagiarism. Findings of a studies by several researchers (e.g., Ghias, Lakho, Asim, Azam, & Saeed, 2014; Higher Education Commission Pakistan, 2015; Murtaza, Zafar, Bashir, & Hussain, 2013; Shakeel, Iffat, Quds, Tanveer, & Hassan, 2013; Shirazi, Jafarey, & Moazam, 2010) revealed that plagiarism in academic institutions in Pakistan is on the rise. The majority of the students showed ignorance of the plagiarism policy of the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan and of their own institutes. They were found ready to indulge in plagiarism as they think it is not as bad as ‘it is only copy-pasting’.
Findings of an empirical study by (Ramzan et al., 2012) revealed that around 27% of students do not understand the meaning of plagiarism and 24% (n = 350) of the students responded that they had been involved in plagiarism. Similarly, 65% agreed that plagiarism is wrong while 11% students think plagiarism is not wrong. They further reported that a significant number of students think plagiarism under pressure is the last resort to succeeding in exams and research assignments.
The literature reveals that quite a few studies are being conducted in different countries to find out the understanding, perceptions, behaviors and attitudes of students toward plagiarism. However, no comprehensive study has been conducted so far to examine the understanding and perceptions of students towards plagiarism in Pakistan. The findings of studies conducted outside Pakistan may not be very relevant in analyzing the real perceptions of Pakistani students because of the pervasive contextual, cultural and societal distinctions and differences with other societies. Local students differ in individual and situational factors such as a country’s culture, education quality, grooming, skills and abilities, system of values, ethical beliefs and perception of plagiarism. However, the rationalizations and excuses for cheating among students across countries may match. The purpose of this study is to investigate graduate and postgraduate students’ understanding, beliefs and interpretations of plagiarism. The findings will lead us to prepare appropriate strategies for promotion of academic integrity to curb plagiarism in higher education institutions.
Postgraduate and graduate students are considered to be the cream of any nation. Their character and behavior about a phenomenon is critical in understanding how the educated elite of a country thinks about and perceives an issue. This important reason encouraged the author to frame a sampling of graduate and ← 80 | 81 → undergraduate students of universities across Pakistan for this study. Stratified sampling was used to select a sample of 1,500 participants from 25 universities. A questionnaire survey was conducted to obtain responses from the participants. Printed and email methods were used for distribution and collection of the filled-in questionnaires. Moreover, the author used his personal friends in universities to get the instrument filled. Out of 1,500 questionnaires sent, 1,124 (75%) were received back. After inspection, 63 responses were found invalid. Therefore, 1,061 valid questionnaires were used for primary data analysis.
Analysis and Interpretation of Primary Data
Students’ perceptions about plagiarism were examined through 24 statements and measured on a 5-point Likert scale starting from strongly agree (SA=5) to Agree (A=4), Undecided (UD=3), Disagree (DA=2) and Strongly Disagree (SDA=1). These statements were adopted through a questionnaire already used by Pritchett (2010) in a dissertation concerning students’ perceptions about plagiarism. The first 17 statements asked respondents to show their agreement or disagreement about their perceptions of plagiarism. The next seven statements specifically asked about their understanding and beliefs on plagiarism when under pressure. The Cronbach alpha of all 24 statements on perceptions about plagiarism was reliable at .77.
Students’ Perceptions towards Plagiarism
In response to one perception statement, 716 (67.5%) students responded that plagiarism is a serious problem in universities, while 155 (14.6%) did not agree with this statement and the remaining 190 (20%) remained neutral or did not respond. Nevertheless, a reasonable number of students do not agree that plagiarism is a serious problem to be tackled by universities. Most of the respondents, 460 (43.4%), agreed that students should be responsible for informing faculty of other students’ plagiarism; however, 248 (23.4%) did not agree with this statement. This shows that students do express concern where the plagiarism of classmates is concerned.
Six statements were used to examine respondents’ demographics, for instance, do male students plagiarise more than female or vice-versa? Similarly, how do they perceive tolerance related to plagiarism between female and male faculty? and if there is any difference between male and female faculty in reporting plagiarism incidences. Findings revealed negligible variations in students’ perceptions based on gender. In response to the first statement, 32% respondents believe that female students plagiarise more often than male students, while 48% did not agree with the statement. 30% respondents believe that male students plagiarise more often ← 81 | 82 → than female students, while around 32% did not agree with the statement. Around 30–32% respondents believed that male and female students plagiarise, while no significant difference was found based on gender. Keeping in view that the respondents were graduate and postgraduate students, 30–32% is a significant number that we need to take into account when making strategies to positively change the perceptions of students about their classmates. The reason for changing this perception is that they themselves will take this number as an excuse to plagiarise.
Around 22% of the respondents perceive that the male faculty is more tolerant towards plagiarism, while 37% did not agree. In response to the next statement, 23% of the respondents believed that the female faculty is more tolerant to plagiarism, while 32% did not agree. Similarly, 33% of the students perceived that the male faculty reports cases of incidence more than the female faculty, while 28% did not agree. Only 24% of the students reported that female faculty report incidents of plagiarism more than the male faculty, while 32% did not agree. No significant difference was found in the students’ perception about faculty tolerance to plagiarism based on gender. However, the data indicates that students think that the female faculty is comparatively more lenient and tolerant than the male faculty in accepting and reporting incidents of plagiarism. A reasonable (22–32) percentage of students believe that the faculty in their universities are tolerant of incidents of plagiarism. This perception has serious implications in the overall culture of integrity and plagiarism in universities and could be a motive for students to indulge in plagiarism.
It was also deemed important to examine how students feel about the reaction of their future employers, professors, parents and friends if they were found involved in plagiarism. A majority of the respondents (55%) believed that future employers would be less inclined to hire them if they were discovered plagiarizing, while 17% did not agree. Similarly, a significant majority (64%) of the respondents believed that their professor would be disappointed if they were found plagiarizing in one of their classes, while 17% did not agree. Around 42% of the respondents believed that their friends would be disappointed if they were found plagiarizing, while 30% of respondents did not agree with the statement. More than 55% of the respondents believed that their parents would be disappointed if they were found plagiarizing, while 21% did not. The findings reveal that most of the students are sensitive to the feelings and reactions of their professors, future employers and parents while 17 to 21% respondents do not care if they are found plagiarizing.
Less than 46% of respondents believed their fellow university students see plagiarism as wrong, while 27% did not consider it to be wrong. The students’ perceptions about their university fellows are discouraging and they may use this as an excuse to commit plagiarism. ← 82 | 83 →
Three statements were used to examine the respondents’ morality, understanding and personal beliefs about plagiarism. Half of the respondents agreed that they would feel guilty if they plagiarised in a paper or presentation, 28% said they would not feel guilty, while 22% did not share this point of view. More than 58% of the respondents agreed that plagiarizing in a paper or presentation goes against their principles, 18.5% did not believe in this, and 23% did not share their beliefs. It was encouraging to note that a majority (61%) of the respondents believed that it would be morally wrong for them to plagiarise in a paper or presentation, 19% did not believe it morally wrong, while the remainder did not share their belief.
For further examination of students’ insights, it was asked whether plagiarism was acceptable under certain circumstances; whereupon 41% agreed yes, 32% showed disagreement, and 26% remained neutral or did not respond to the statement. It is alarming that most of the students feel that plagiarism is acceptable and excusable under certain conditions.
Perceptions about Plagiarism When under Pressure
It was deemed critical to investigate students’ perceptions about their universities’ tolerance of plagiarism when they are under pressure and consequently are apt to find excuses to commit plagiarism. These findings will help us to better understand the beliefs and attitudes of the graduate and undergraduate students about their universities’ policies, practices and norms to handle plagiarism.
Responses show that 40% of the students believed that their universities would find it more excusable if the course was too hard and they plagiarised, while 36% did not agree. Similarly, half of the students believed that their universities would find it more excusable if the student was in danger of losing a scholarship, while 27% did not agree. Around 41% of students believed that their universities would find it more excusable if students did not have time to do all the work and so they plagiarised, while 27% did not agree.
A similar pattern can be seen where 43% of the students believed that their universities would find it more excusable if the instructor does not seem to care about plagiarism, while 29% did not agree. Likewise, 41% of the students believed that their universities would find it more excusable if the instructor acts as if the student is taking only his/her class, but 27% did not agree. Around 30% of the students believed that their universities would find it more excusable if the student plagiarizing is not hurting anyone else, while 44% did not agree. More than 33% of the students believed that their universities would find it more excusable if everyone else in the class seemed to be plagiarizing; however, 38% did not agree. ← 83 | 84 →
More than 40% of students believe that their universities will accept excuses to tolerate plagiarism because of pressures of workload, difficult work, fear of loss of scholarship, students being short of time or teachers not caring much about plagiarism and if the instructor thinks that his/her class is the only one the student is taking. Similarly, they believe that their universities will tolerate and find plagiarism excusable if they think that the students are not hurting anyone and everyone in the class seems to be plagiarizing. This speaks volumes of the students’ understanding and perceptions about their universities’ culture of integrity and plagiarism.
The findings of the statements on students’ perceptions about plagiarism when under pressure revealed that a significant number of respondents (28–50%) believe that their university would be lenient and tolerant to plagiarism if students are under some kind of pressure because of workload, possible loss of scholarship, time constraints, the instructor not caring much, if it is not hurting anyone else, and everyone else in the class is plagiarizing. These perceptions need serious consideration by universities to make clear policies and procedures and ensure their implementation in order to clarify that plagiarism is not acceptable under any circumstances whatsoever. Universities’ management, teachers and students should clearly understand that there is zero tolerance with reference to plagiarism so that the prevailing perceptions can be changed to promote integrity and morality in education.
Discussion, Conclusions and Implications
The purpose of this study was to investigate postgraduate and graduate university students’ perceptions about plagiarism in Pakistan. What are their personal beliefs, feelings and how do they collectively perceive plagiarism in the classes and universities? How do they perceive plagiarism morally? Another important aspect of this study was to ascertain if the participants present any excuses, such as pressure in their studies, assignments, etc. for indulging in plagiarism.
It has been almost a decade since the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan framed a policy and encouraged universities to use Turnitin (electronic text matching software) to curb plagiarism. However, cases of plagiarism are on the rise in universities. A low level of agreement (43%) was found amongst students regarding informing the faculty if some of their classmates were plagiarizing. This is a tricky situation. Despite the fact that students feel plagiarism is wrong, they may not find it appropriate to complain about their fellow students, keeping in mind that this may harm their personal relationship with peers. Even then, a reasonable number of respondents agreed with this statement and a large number ← 84 | 85 → of students remained neutral in their response. (Rettinger & Kramer, 2009) found that students many a time exaggerate the level and frequency of plagiarism committed by their peers and this has a serious impact on their own understanding and chances of indulging in plagiarism. Universities need to develop a culture of morality, develop students’ writing and referencing skills, and strictly implement a zero tolerance policy towards plagiarism. Similarly, if a student informs of malpractices by another student, a deeper investigation should be conducted; but at the same time, the name of the informer should be kept confidential so that their inter-personal relationship is not damaged.
Female faculty were perceived as more lenient compare to male faculty in tolerating plagiarism by their students. One of the reasons could be that females are generally soft-hearted or they may be less conscious of the consequences of plagiarism in their universities. However, keeping in view the number of female teachers (around 45%), this is a significant finding and need to be taken very seriously in order to change students’ perceptions about their female teachers.
It is encouraging to find that the majority of the students were conscious of the fact that their future employer may not hire them, and their professors, friends and parents will be disappointed, if it is found that they have plagiarised. This can work as a deterrence against malpractices like plagiarism. This warrants involving parents and peers in educating the students to remain ethical in academia and not indulge in plagiarism.
The response to statements related to students’ principles and morality towards plagiarism in a paper or presentation is encouraging, as around 59–60% consider plagiarism contrary to their personal values, but around 18% did not consider it to be against their values and norms. This again is a challenge, and universities need to plan and strategise to focus on values and morality in our academia. Magnus et al. (2002) also found that a country’s overall culture of integrity and values has a significant impact on academic integrity. One way to combat plagiarism is that each student should be enrolled in ethics and values courses and put in counseling sessions; in addition to regularly detecting plagiarism cases and meting out severe punishment to those found guilty. This may help in changing their perceptions towards plagiarism and other cheating habits.
Most (41%) of the students agreed that plagiarism is acceptable under certain circumstances while only 32% did not agree and a quarter of the respondents remained un-decided. These findings are alarming and reveal the students’ perceptions of tolerance to plagiarism by the universities. They think that if there is any pressure of work or any other excuse, plagiarism should be acceptable. From these responses it is evident that a larger body of our graduate and postgraduate ← 85 | 86 → students will find excuses to commit plagiarism. Therefore, universities need to work more rigorously and strictly to create an environment in universities where ethics, morality and integrity is practiced and followed in its true spirit and there is no tolerance for any kind of cheating or plagiarism. The use of electronic text originality-check software Turnitin for every assignment and research paper can also work as an effective deterrent in changing the behavior of students towards plagiarism. Barrett and Malcolm (2006) have also recommended the use of Turnitin and similar software to check the originality of text and help students in paraphrasing and referencing. We also need to reiterate university and societal expectations of high moral values from our graduate and postgraduate students.
Although a large number of postgraduate and graduate students across Pakistan participated in this study, we also need to understand how the faculty of our educational institutions perceive plagiarism. An examination of factors that impact attitudes and perceptions toward plagiarism through factor analysis and regression will help to identify major predictors of perceptions to plagiarism and help us in making strategies to change the students’ perceptions toward plagiarism. Similar studies focused on medical, business, humanities and social sciences students may also be conducted to ascertain the causes of plagiarism at the micro-level so that profession-specific policies are made to eradicate plagiarism from our society.
Ashworth, P., Bannister, P., & Thorne, P. (1997). Guilty in whose eyes? University students’ perceptions of cheating and plagiarism in academic work and assessment. Studies in Higher Education, 22(2), 187–203.
Barrett, R., & Malcolm, J. (2006). Embedding plagiarism education in the assessment process. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 2(1), 38–45.
Bennett, K. K., Behrendt, L. S., & Boothby, J. L. (2011). Instructor perceptions of plagiarism: Are we finding common ground? Teaching of Psychology, 38(1), 29–35.
Fish, R. M., & Hura, G. M. (2013). Student’s perceptions of plagiarism. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 13(5), 33–45.
Gullifer, J., & Tyson, G. A. (2010). Exploring university students’ perceptions of plagiarism: A focus group study. Studies in Higher Education, 35(4), 463–481.
Gullifer, J. M., & Tyson, G. A. (2014). Who has read the policy on plagiarism? Unpacking students’ understanding of plagiarism. Studies in Higher Education, 39(7), 1202–1218.
Higbee, J. L., & Thomas, P. V. (2002). Student and afculty perceptions of behaviors that constitute cheating. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 40(1), 39–52. DOI: 10.2202/1949-6605.1187
Kokkinaki, A. I., Demoliou, C., & Iakovidou, M. (2015). Students’ perceptions of plagiarism and relevant policies in Cyprus. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 11(1), 3.
Magnus, J. R., Polterovich, V. M., Danilov, D. L., & Savvateev, A. V. (2002). Tolerance of cheating: An analysis across countries. The Journal of Economic Education, 33(2), 125–135.
McCabe, D. L. (1999). Academic dishonesty among high school students. Adolescence, 34(136), 681–687.
McCabe, D. L. (2005). Cheating among college and university students: A North American perspective. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 1(1).
McCabe, D. L., Trevino, L. K., & Butterfield, K. D. (2001). Cheating in academic institutions: A decade of research. Ethics & Behavior, 11(3), 219–232.
Owunwanne, D., Rustagi, N., & Dada, R. (2010). Students’ perceptions of cheating and plagiarism in higher institutions. Journal of College Teaching & Learning (TLC), 7(11).
Park, C. (2003). In other (people’s) words: Plagiarism by university students--literature and lessons. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 28(5), 471–488.
Power, L. G. (2009). University students’ perceptions of plagiarism. The Journal of Higher Education, 80(6), 643–662. DOI: 10.2307/27750755
Ramzan, M., Munir, M. A., Siddique, N., & Asif, M. (2012). Awareness about plagiarism amongst university students in Pakistan. Higher Education, 64(1), 73–84.
Razera, D., Verhagen, H., Pargman, T. C., & Ramberg, R. (2010). Plagiarism awareness, perception, and attitudes among students and teachers in Swedish higher education—a case study. Paper presented at the 4th international plagiarism conference–towards an authentic future, Northumbria University in Newcastle Upon Tyne-UK.
Rehman, R. R., & Waheed, A. (2014). Ethical perception of university students about academic dishonesty in Pakistan: Identification of student’s dishonest acts. Qualitative Report, 19(4), 1–13.
Rettinger, D. A., & Kramer, Y. (2009). Situational and personal causes of student cheating. Research in Higher Education, 50(3), 293–313.
Rogerson, A. M., & McCarthy, G. (2017). Using Internet based paraphrasing tools: Original work, patchwriting or facilitated plagiarism? International Journal for Educational Integrity, 13(1), 2. ← 87 | 88 →
Scanlon, P. M., & Neumann, D. R. (2002). Internet plagiarism among college students. Journal of College Student Development, 43(3), 374–385.
Sutherland-Smith, W. (2005). Pandora’s box: Academic perceptions of student plagiarism in writing. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 4(1), 83–95.
Witmer, H., & Johansson, J. (2015). Disciplinary action for academic dishonesty: Does the student’s gender matter? International Journal for Educational Integrity, 11(1), 6.