One of the more destructive traits of modern Malaysian society is academic dishonesty. It is an issue that runs throug many facets of the Malaysian culture. Academic dishonesty is not just an issue in education, it’s also prevalent within the civil service, business, and even political walks of life.

A few high profile cases of academic dishonesty have arisen over the past few years. Two Federal deputy Ministers, Richard Riot (Human Resources) and Dr Ewon Ebin (Science) were found to have fake degrees a couple of years ago, and an executive director of a private college of higher education affiliated with a UK university, and pop star Fazley Yaakob, were found to hold two fake degrees, and two public company directors were also found to have fake qualifications.

Many prominent figures in Malaysian society have bought ‘bogus degrees’ from unaccredited universities to enhance their qualifications and CVs. There are also cases of Malaysians trying to use fake degrees to get work overseas in countries like New Zealand. However, this lack of academic integrity is not limited to acquiring fake university qualifications.

A prominent academic has developed a collection of awards that could be considered dubious. Awards such as the Socrates Award in Education, Best Manager Award, and ‘The Name in Science’ awarded by “a designer award mill” called the Europe Business Assembly (EBA), purportedly located in Oxford, UK, appear to grant awards on application and payment, rather than being scrutinized by any international panel. Other such dubious awards include the “Merit of Commandeur” conferred by an organization called the Belgian Chamber of Inventors (BCI), of which any trace cannot be found through internet searches. This is not the first time such awards have been the source of controversy in Malaysia and the region.

There have been numerous issues in regards to plagiarism. Back in 2013, an Utusan Malaysia writer Ridhuan Tee was accused of plagiarism by a Universiti Teknologi Malaysia lecturer Dr Aril Yasreen Mohd. Yassin. Although the matter was never resolved, Ridhuan Tee was appointed an associate professor at Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia (National Defence University).

Plagiarism in the copying of internet, book, and article material for publications is wide spread within Malaysia, although very few reports ever rise to the public domain.

Adeline Lee Zhia Ern, a Malaysian writer, was caught plagiarizing Jack Canfield’s Chicken Soup for the Soul IV in her first book, Lethal Lesson and Other Stories, leading her work to be withdrawn from the market and destroyed. An editor working for the New Straits Times, Brendan Pereira was dismissed because of plagiarizing the work of US journalist Mitch Albom. Last year, the Malaysian national news agency Bernama suspended a journalist for plagiarizing an article from the Jakarta Post.

But acts of plagiarism are not just confined to books. Australian Masterchef finalist Alvin Quah was accused of plagiarism by Rasa Malaysia’s Bee Yin Low from the Asian food blog Rasa Malaysia.

With the level of academic dishonesty in general society, it’s not surprising that there is a lack of academic integrity within Malaysian institutions of higher education. What is surprising, however, is the sheer extent of it; particularly among students, according to a recent survey.

But these practices are not just restricted to the student cohort. A startling but not well publicized piece of research on student academic dishonesty in Malaysia showed academic dishonesty was rampant. It was revealed that students understand the university policies are towards plagiarism and cheating, yet due to peer pressure and the feeling of security in the collective culture, large percentages of students partake in cheating in one form or another.

Pic: AP.

Pic: AP.

The study went on to state that 95.7% of students had partaken in some form of plagiarism, 96% had shared an assignment with other students, 93% had cheated during tests, 92% had falsified data, 86% had cheated in exams, and 90% had copied a friends assignment.

Due to the sheer number of students at Malaysian universities today, it is almost impossible to use tools like ‘turnitin’ to check all students work for plagiarism.

In addition universities are worried about their reputations if pass rates are poor, and often put extreme pressure on lecturers to pass students. Failing a student in some faculties within a Malaysian university would lead to a long series of meetings and extra work to reassess and pass them.

Unfortunately, some staff at Malaysian universities are not good role models to students. In one of the few cases that came to public attention, two Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) lecturers were caught plagiarizing materials from the internet to produce an effective writing handbook. The action taken against the authors was only a reprimand. A similar case involving a deputy vice chancellor of another university was ‘pushed under the rug’. However the IEEE enforced a ten year ban on any papers from the academic in any of their journals.

Some lecturers use undergraduate student assignments as the basis of papers they publish in academic journals. This accounts for the large number of papers some lecturers are able to produce each year, but student names are rarely added as authors to the lecturer’s submissions to journals.

A number of deans and high office bearers within Malaysian universities specifically hire staff from countries like Bangladesh to take on the role of ghost writer. These staff members have no other duties other than to produce papers and even books for their employers. This is in addition to lecturers also putting their superiors name on their papers to carry favour. Some staff members have even been known to employ a ghost writer to research and write their PhD thesis.

Plagiarism is extremely high among lecturers and professors within Malaysian universities, and only occasionally will any academic come out and publically explain what is going on.

With the push over the last few years for Malaysian universities to rise in the world rankings, publishing has become a very important issue for academics. Universities have put a lot of funds into improving their volume of articles published in academic journals.

Many methods are being used to get articles published and gain citations for their work. A large number of Malaysian academics are using the ‘checkbook’ to just pay for publication. Academic journals are now springing up using a ‘pay to publish’ approach, rather than the ‘double blind referee’ approach that is traditional to academic publishing. Lecturers also give papers at conferences where proceedings are published in journals after the conference.

If one goes to Google Scholar and checks the publication citations of some of the new universities, it will become very evident that many academics are gaining large numbers of citations for their work within very short periods of time. This has particularly been the case over the last three to four years. High numbers of citations are being generated through the sheer volume of papers where lecturers cite their own work, and make agreements with other lecturers to cross-cite each other’s papers.

Many other dishonest activities going on within Malaysian universities include;

The falsifying of student appraisal surveys to eliminate criticism of teaching,

  • The ‘cut and paste’ of curriculum from other universities when developing new courses,
  • Some foreign students who fail just to purchase a locally produced fake degree before returning home. Some even go to the convocation and take photos with their friends on graduation day,
  • There are still faculty members with dubious degrees and qualifications within today’s Malaysian universities. There are currently still no laws against this practice, and unfortunately some international universities are cashing in on the Malaysian Ministry of Education’s quest to improve qualifications among public university lecturers. Many Malaysian lecturers are sent to overseas universities which guarantee a pass to gain their PhD.

There is currently a very low state of academic integrity within Malaysian universities. However, universities are just a microcosm of the general society around them. Fraudulent academic practices and dishonesty is fast becoming an acceptable behaviour in Malaysia as the national and institutional leaders have done very little to highlight the seriousness of these offences.

Academically dishonest people are leniently dealt with in the region, which has given today’s younger generation ‘skewed ideas’ about morality and ethics and so academic dishonesty has become a destructive modus operandi.

The prevalence of academic dishonesty shows that moral and ethical standards are slipping in Malaysia and a whole new generation is being told that it’s OK to steal the creative work and ideas of other people. There is a very high tolerance in Malaysian society for fraud, cheating and mediocrity.

Malaysia is now a country where some ministers don’t know their own portfolios, students don’t know their career disciplines, and university professors just don’t know their fields. This has come at a great cost to Malaysian society. Mediocrity rather than meritocracy is favoured which will affect Malaysia’s human capital competitiveness in the coming years. This is a problem that is coming from the top of Malaysia’s institutions, where reform is desperately needed.

This article first appeared on Asian Correspondent.

Image via Shutterstock.


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