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Towards Consistency and Transparency in Academic Integrity

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.

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Academic Integrity and Quality of Research in Higher Education: Inclination and Confrontation for Young Scholars (Adeela Rehman)

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Adeela Rehman1

Fatima Jinnah Women University, Pakistan

Academic Integrity and Quality of Research in Higher Education: Inclination and Confrontation for Young Scholars

Abstract: This paper aimed to share the experiences of young scholars on the quality of research to ensure academic integrity by identifying their perceptions and practices of research and publication in the field of social sciences and its impact on the quality of their work. By using qualitative research design, the study embarked on the case studies of ten international postgraduate students from different countries who are enrolled in different universities in Malaysia. They were selected by using the convenient sampling technique. In-depth interviews were conducted with the respondents to collect the relevant information, which was then analysed by using the thematic analysis technique. The findings of the study indicated that to fulfil the escalating needs and demands of publications in higher education, research is becoming more challenging with respect to its quality and innovation. Young scholars and researchers in various fields are confronted with various issues related to quality and progression due to lack of knowledge about academic integrity matters. On the other hand, demands of the quantity of research publications often endanger quality in research, and the use of fake publication sources threatens young scholars to get their degrees on time as well being alarming for their career progression in academia. The study concludes that even though the trends of global education and research culture are increasing day-by-day, the eminence and novelty of research are still exigent due to researchers’ personal progression and the competition in academia. This study recommends the promotion of quality-based publication horizons to meet the ever-increasing demands and needs of research publications in order to achieve academic progress.

Keywords: academic integrity, higher education, quality in publication, research

Introduction

Academic integrity is reflected through the fairness, respect and professional conduct of educational activities. Anderson, Shaw, Steneck, Konkle and Kamata (2013) assert that academic integrity builds upon honesty and trust in teaching and research. Plagiarism is a serious offense that affects academic integrity. Many studies ← 229 | 230 → (Bretag et al., 2013; Howard & Robillard, 2008; McCabe, Trevino, Butterfield, & McCabe, 2001) highlight plagiarism as the most heated rupture of academic integrity, due to the need to safeguard the originality and honesty of scholarly works.

In the meantime, research is an integral component of higher education which seems an easy and simple task, but its quality and misconduct to encourage authors to produce more in number remains delinquent. Although the issue has been raised and emphasised at various national and international forums, institutionalised efforts are still needed to ensure academic integrity (Godecharle, Nemery, & Dierickx, 2013; Titus, Wells & Rhoades, 2008; Wager, 2013). This paper reflects on the association between research publication and academic integrity as well as the challenges faced by young scholars to ensure quality-based research work. In this regard, globalization plays an important role in promoting global education and research culture. This is evident through the influx of international degrees being offered and these students endure their research obligations. Here, students not only seek opportunities to benefit from their academic experience, but also to build up their social and professional networks within a global context (Fleischaman, Lawley, & Raciti, 2010). On the other hand, in regards to the quality of research and academic integrity, young scholars are confronted with numerous challenges in fulfilling the academic requirements of professional growth. Shaw and Erren (2015) also highlight that research malpractice with respect to plagiarism and the number of publications are the greatest threat to professional integrity.

Problem Statement

The quantity and quality of research are important indicators to measure institutional performance, research funding, recruitment and promotion of faculty members. However, little consideration has been given in subjectively measuring performance based on internationally- accepted standards which threaten integrity in academia. Many previous studies (Kasperkevic, 2014; Van-Noorden, 2010; Wolverton, 1998) highlight the matter of quantifiable measurements of individual performances in academia, and it is challenging to address the quality of research publications. Competition to publish more is increasing in academic culture; which is quite challenging for young scholars with less publications and citations, as well as the difficulty of identifying the best and most acceptable journals in which to publish their papers.

The present study focuses on the inclination and challenges faced by young scholars to compete in the academic world as postgraduate students and as faculty members. This study will highlight the experiences of young scholars to meet the quantity-within-quality of research publication to ensure academic integrity. ← 230 | 231 →

Objectives

The following objectives were formulated to address the aforementioned issue:

To identify the scholar’s perception and practices about research publications with respect to their quantity and quality.

To explore the challenges faced by young scholars in regard to the quantity and quality of research publications.

To relate the scholars’ perception of quantity and quality of research publications with academic integrity.

Significance of research

The study will highlight the challenges encountered by the research scholars with respect to the quantity and quality of research publications. As a quality-based publication is challenging and demanding, the findings of this study will allow policy-makers to re-think the measurement indicators used to evaluate the performances of faculty members in various disciplines. The analysis will also foster the knowledge of the academician and postgraduate students to produce research work to meet both the required quantity and quality.

Methodology

This section comprises the research design and method used to accomplish the study.

Research Design

The research was qualitative in nature in which in-depth interviews were conducted with international postgraduate research students studying in Malaysia.

Sample

The interviews were conducted with ten international students. The students were randomly selected based on their availability and willingness to provide information for the study.

Instrument of the Study

An interview guideline was used to conduct the interviews since the respondents were asked open-ended questions that focused on their research experiences and quality. ← 231 | 232 →

Data Analysis

After collecting the data, thematic analysis was performed. The collected information was sorted into different themes and explanations were based on the relevant literature.

Results & Discussion

The results of the study are divided into two parts; Part 1 presents the demographical characteristics of the respondents and Part 2 consists of thematic analysis of the study.

Part 1: Demographics of the Respondents

The demographical information of the respondents with respect to their country, gender and level of study is illustrated below:

Table 1: Frequency and Percentage Distribution of Respondents’ Demography

 f%
Country  
Bangladesh220
India220
Pakistan220
Nigeria330
Indonesia110
Gender  
Female660
Male440
University Status  
Private550
Public550
Degree Program  
PhD880
Master’s210

The data in the above table illustrate that the majority of the students were from Nigeria while the least number of participants belong to Indonesia. There were an equal number of students from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan who ← 232 | 233 → participated in the study. Malaysia has the highest number of postgraduate students from all these countries. There were 135,000 international students enrolled in Malaysian institutions in 2014 coming from Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Nigeria (ICEF, 2016). There is wide diversity of the international students in Malaysia due to its cost effectiveness (Study Malaysia, 2017), reflecting the trend of globalization where more people are getting degrees abroad.

Gender-wise, there was an equal distribution of the respondents for the study. A majority (80%) of the respondents were pursuing a postgraduate degree in public educational institutions. The high percentage of those getting a doctorate-level degree from foreign universities itself indicates the trends of global research-oriented culture.

Part 2: International Students and Research Culture

The inclinations of global education are fostered with the advancement of globalization which has resulted in a prospering research culture. It also creates new avenues for interdisciplinary studies and research. The influx of international students coming from various countries leads to fluctuation in the level of knowledge and experiences due to their wider interest in the field of social sciences. Consequently, the emerging trends of international education and the trends and values of obtaining international degrees are increasing, particularly at postgraduate level. Pereda, Airey and Bennett (2007) also state that international students are different from local students in the context of culture, language and educational experience, which can also be reflected in their research work.

The current state of interdisciplinary research in the social sciences promotes the common interest through frequent academic and research interactions via substantive seminars and conferences. Thus, the research culture has been associated with faster publication.

Due to the high number of international students in Malaysia, interdisciplinary research has moved beyond simple collaboration and now means teaming up to integrate data, methodologies, perspectives, and concepts from multiple disciplines in order to advance fundamental understanding or to solve real world problems. One of the respondents mentioned that:

Being an international student in Malaysia, I got the opportunity to meet with a number of professors who have lots of publications and excellent knowledge of their respective field. By collaborating with them, I have increased my own research potentiality and produce many research papers in impact factor journals. ← 233 | 234 →

Similarly, another respondent stated:

As an international PhD student, I have published a few papers in high quality conferences and two to three papers in indexed journals within the three years of my degree. The global environment of scholars from various countries assisted me to enhance my research abilities and to work with them to increase my publications.

The researcher’s own experience of being an international student can verify the above mentioned responses. In this regard, the global exposure to interaction with intellectual minds belonging to various countries and their varied experiences of research enlightened the researcher to broaden her research horizons. The ability to conduct a number of research studies in collaboration with experts also boosts the interests and competition of publications in the academic world. Edward and Roy (2017) pointed that incentives for the researcher merely focus on the quantity of their scientific performance.

According to one of the respondents:

Individual publishing in social sciences is difficult. The involvement of other researchers of various backgrounds with research experience enabled me to improve my writing abilities to produce good research papers. I always respect the suggestions and guidelines of the experts as well as my peers’ input in my research work. Together we can escalate the research culture in academia.

Analysis shows that research is an integral part of postgraduate studies, the international exposure and networking increase research activities across the disciplines. As mentioned by some of the respondents, research publications are quite challenging due to their demands and the nature of the studies; establishing networks with other researchers/experts across disciplines is in the interest of the research and its publication.

Academic Integrity and Research

Academic integrity is understood as the professional and ethical values a researcher needs to follow in order to avoid any misconduct or dishonesty in writing and publication. The researcher sought to explore the postgraduate students’ perceptions and practices of academic integrity in this research in order to ascertain their commitment and trustworthiness in their work.

The majority of the students’ perception of academic integrity in research is to avoid plagiarism and breaching the data. One of the respondents stated this as:

For me, academic integrity means I should minimise plagiarism in my research, although 100% cannot be avoided due to the extensive research available in the market. ← 234 | 235 →

Similarly, another respondent mentioned that:

I think that being a postgraduate student, it is my responsibility to follow the ethical considerations of the research. I tried not to breach academic integrity in my research. I presented the original data without any fabrication and misrepresentation of the data. So I think I am honest with my work and every postgraduate student should also be.

In contrast to the above mentioned response, another participant said:

I know the research ethics and plagiarism guidelines ensure academic integrity in my work. But sometimes, consciously or unconsciously, we postgraduate students need to play with the data to produce the desired results, such as a minor change of data or adding forged data. In my opinion, as 100% correct data and 100% actual research is not possible due to the number of constraints, such as needing urgently a publication to appear in the viva exam, demand of a number of publications, etc., some delinquencies occurring in the research might threaten its academic integrity.

The above-mentioned excerpt illustrates that students do not consider the breaching of academic integrity is an unethical matter. A study by Rehman and Waheed (2014) supported the argument by highlighting the research findings of aqualitative study conducted on postgraduate students’ research activities. The findings illustrated that academic dishonesty among students is considered a normal part of their studies, as various misconduct in their research were reported.

Institutions must have a mechanism to verify and monitor students’ research activities and careful examine the study produced. In response to the provision of institutional ethical guidelines, one respondent mentioned that:

The university has provided ethical guidelines for conducting research and expects the students to follow them. As an international student, I am not only representing my home university where I am teaching but also my country; therefore it is my responsibility not to breach academic integrity in order to maintain the reputation of my institution and country.

Universities trust such expectations from international postgraduate students to maintain academic integrity in their studies. As a result of this, students also follow the ethical guidelines when doing research. The argument is supported by Grimes (2004) who stated that 85% of US students considered breaching academic integrity is ethically wrong. It can be assumed that if students feel guilty, they will try to avoid any unethical ways. Huber (2014) also suggested that character building through research publication should be introduced among PhD scholars to highlight their intellectual services to humanity.

In contrast, sometimes students do not know about the concept of academic integrity as they have not been provided any guidelines or regulations from their institutions, as well as not having come across such matters. As one of the respondents quoted: ← 235 | 236 →

I don’t know about the ethical matters of publishing my own work, which is considered as self- plagiarism, in the case I submitted my thesis in Turnitin software. The institution has not provided any rules and regulations for publishing some parts of my own work from my own thesis.

The researcher’s observation and experience about the above-quoted excerpt illustrate that every journal has its own guidelines for plagiarism detection, which is usually interpreted through a similarity index. If it matches extensively with already-submitted unpublished thesis work, it is considered as self-plagiarism. Some journals accept an article on the provision of the Turnitin report generated by the institution to check for plagiarism, but some may not accept it. Therefore, due to lack of knowledge about particular matters, students may be hurt from issues of academic dishonesty. A study by Mahmud and Bretag (2013) conducted at Australian universities to explore postgraduate research students’ knowledge of academic integrity also justify the argument by highlighting that students have less knowledge on this matter. Some of the students were not aware of their institution’s policies regarding academic integrity; due to which students were not aware how to avoid breaches of academic integrity.

Issues and Challenges: Quantity vs. Quality of Research

The debate on quantity versus quality in scientific publishing is significant and reflects the time and effort utilised to produce high quality research work as opposed to writing numerous low-quality research papers. Unfortunately, in academia, a higher number of publications is often associated with quality, and is usually measured by the number of citations (Michalska-Smith & Allesina, 2017). Similarly, one of the participants of this study illustrated the issue thus:

Writing good quality papers is difficult in the current trend of focusing on quantity of publications. In social sciences, it is very challenging to produce a greater number of publications with qualitative research, in which you can manipulate the variables and write more articles.

With respect to the relationship between quantity and quality in research, one respondent said:

High quantity gives us more respect among colleagues and academia. More and more citations by our peers and students as well as self-citation increase the impact factors of our papers, which leads towards quality of work.

Michalska-Smith and Allesina (2017) supported the above argument by highlighting the relationship between more productive years with more citations. Consequently, the study found a significant, positive relationship between quantity and quality in relation to the citation counts for each publication. Analysis shows ← 236 | 237 → that more appreciation and rewards resulted in more papers and higher counts on citation; hence, there is a need to address the matter of quality in order to measure academic integrity.

One of the respondents mentioned that:

Because of the competition and requirements for a quantity of papers, a researcher cannot spend too much time producing quality work. Therefore, many times the researcher just manipulates the data and produces many papers, as many as he/she can, from the same data. The quality of publication is only measured through high impact factor journals and indexed journals.

Haslam and Laham (2010) supported the above response by examining associations between the quantity, quality and impact of publication records of 85 research scholars in the field of social sciences, who were traced from during their PhD studies until 10 years post-PhD. The findings illustrated a strong association of impact with quantity, rather than quality, which is demanded in many prestigious institutions.

As a suggestion, one respondent stated:

I think, if a small piece of work is important for a small community, it should be published in an appropriate place, irrespective of its high impact. The nature of work for the targeted audience will increase the quality of the publication through its citation by the relevant people at a relevance place. Although high impact is necessary for academic growth, one should not ruin the value of the research and its intended audience by placing it on a broader and immoral podium.

The findings of this study illustrate that international postgraduate students’ experience of interdisciplinary research broadens their horizon for conducting research on global issues. Nonetheless, due to the increasing demands of publications in academia, innovation is being jeopardised in research. It is also challenging for the researcher and academician to produce quality research with limited time and resources.

Conclusion

This study aimed to gauge the accelerated trends of global education and research culture. It enables countries, especially developing ones, to build partnerships with developed nations in the education sector, not just to improve their education system, but also to broaden research horizons. This enables them to share and learn from each other’s research experience, which not only enhances their individual knowledge but also enables them to increase the international research competencies of their native countries. Global exposure broadens the horizon ← 237 | 238 → of international students to explore a wide arena of multidisciplinary fields by producing high quality research papers.

Besides these trends in higher education and research, various disciplines are still confronted with various issues related to the quality of research. Requirements for scholars to produce more research publications not only jeopardise quality but also undermine the academic integrity of higher education. The perception of postgraduate students about academic integrity is diverse in nature as the majority of students know about academic misconduct but cannot entirely avoid it due to the pressure to publish more papers rapidly. Some of the students were not even aware of the issues and concerns of academic integrity, which is quite challenging for themselves and their institutions. It is concluded that young scholars are optimistic toward enhancing the research culture as well as enhancement of their academic integrity. However, they need institutional support to provide them with unblemished guidelines on research activities and publication in order to enhance the quality of research and academic integrity.

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1 Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, dradeelarehman@gmail.com