INTEGRITY is being honest, consistent and adhering to strong moral ethics. When talking about academic integrity, the first thing that comes to mind is plagiarism.
In the academic sphere, plagarism is taboo and we have to be constantly reminded not to copy other people’s work and claim credit for it.
Universiti Kuala Lumpur (UniKL) board of directors member Professor Datuk Dr Syed Othman Alhabshi said plagiarism is an easy way to get things done.
It is a habit among students, especially in universities, and he said: “They will not just copy another work verbatim, but worse still, some will put their name as the first author instead of the supervisor.
“This is unacceptable. I have seen that in many cases. By right, the name of the supervisor should be No.1, followed by the student’s. To me, that is not being honest,” he said at the recent Unitar Industry Roundtable 2019, themed “Academic Integrity: Issues and Challenges”, in Petaling Jaya.
He said as an academician, it is a challenge to uphold integrity and honesty at all times.
“When I correct papers, I always think that I have to be fair. The moment you are not fair and have certain bias for a particular student , that means you’re not being fair towards other students.
This kind of attitude is something that you cannot carry when you go to university. You have to stimulate the positive attitude from young within your family. It is also a matter of the heart, that means, you have to have spiritual beliefs,” he added.
Syed Othman said the lecturers themselves have to be a role model for students.
“If the students can form integrity within themselves and live their life as a person of integrity, then you can’t lose your way,” he said.
Orion Base Shipping (M) Sdn Bhd chief operating officer Azhari Abdul Rahman said multinational companies mostly had quite near-perfect performance management systems to measure employees’ performance according to company rules.
He said, in other words, when interviewing job candidates, companies would take into consideration their core values, such as personality, attitude and behaviour.
“It is difficult if your integrity has been butchered at university, and this will definitely come back to haunt you when you enter working life.
“For example, when you want a higher position than your colleagues, you ask someone else to do all the work and take credit for yourself. Organisations will not tolerate that kind of attitude,” said Azhari.
Global University of Islamic Finance (Inceif) lecturer Professor Dr Syed Abdul Hamid AlJunid said he would address academic integrity from a different perspective by asking: “What is the nature of education in university that has created this divisive issue?”.
He said rather than asking students about the things they know, he would ask them to write something they had no idea of, and that would get them to think a bit.
“We are very much focused on recruiting people with academic excellence, but we forget the difference between essence and accident.
“Our focus in universities has gone so far, to the extent of testing them on what they don’t know, which I see as very interesting and may help in the way they think.”
He said people were inclined to plagiarise other people’s work not because they wanted to take credit, but sometimes it was because they were overwhelmed by their own work.
“The problem is we are not educating them to think in terms of solving issues. For example, I can give them some key terms or spot questions in an exam. But when I chang
e the questions in a certain way, how will they use their imagination to explain and give me the best answers?
“If we ask students to continue thinking the old way, then solving common problems will become difficult. That is why exploration is important. We must give them the chance to explore individually or in groups. And, in explorations, you require what is called collaboration, and you work in teams.
“That is a learning process they will be more happy to report about, rather than asking them to go to the library and write something so abstract that they come up with plagiarised work,” said Syed Abdul Hamid.
PLUS Malaysia Bhd human resources head Wan Nong Khairol said there was one relationship an employer and employee should uphold at work
a fiduciary relationship built on trust and confidence.
“If you apply for a position using a fake degree, for example, that doesn’t mean you have better skills compared with others. There will come a time when you will be unable to perform a simple task that you claim to have knowledge in.
“I always tell people when they come for a job interview, it is already an open door. And what differentiates a candidate from another is the way they sell themselves.
“For me, if a person is found to be misrepresenting himself or misleading the company, what will happen to him? What do you think? He can be dismissed. Once you lose trust, it is a big mistake and is deemed a major misconduct. Therefore, you can be terminated immediately.
“We do have cases of candidates coming in with fake degrees and they seem to know what they are saying. But when you engage them deeper during the interview, they will fail miserably.
“You’re lucky if you can live with yourself by claiming credit on the work of others. There’s nothing much other people can do. But as mentioned earlier, it sets the tone of what you are teaching the people who look up to you, and this extends to your family members,” said Wan Nong.
International Islamic University Malaysia Kulliyah of ICT lecturer Professor Datuk Dr Norbik Bashah Idris said recent reports suggested the existence of new fake degrees that had valid serial numbers but false student records.
He said these degrees were difficult to detect and had raised concern that the database of universities had been compromised, either through hacking or an inside job.
“There are two ways to fake a degree. You can buy a real certificate from a fake university, or a fake certificate from a real university.
“And people fake their degrees because of three reasons — gaining status and recognition; cannot afford to study due to cost and time constraints; and, an easy way to get good jobs.”
Norbik said faking a degree was a form of dishonesty that would undoubtedly cause embarrassment to the culprit when exposed.
“Those with low integrity will subscribe to such behaviour. I suggest employers instruct their human resource department to check the candidates’ resume and certificates.
“You can bet that a few will turn up. This used to be a challenging task, but with the advent of technology, such as the blockchain-based system that involves scanning a QR code on the degree, the task can be performed efficiently.
“All employers should at least request to see the original certificates,” he said.
The industry round table organised by Unitar’s Faculty of Business and Technology was a timely initiative in view of the challenges that the education sector was facing.
Unitar vice-chancellor Professor Dr Nor Raihan Abd Hamid said the discussion covered the best solutions that could be used in addressing plagiarism and other unethical practices in the academia.
From an institutional perspective, Nor Raihan said the failure to address the problem of fake degrees would not only damage the reputation of real universities, but might lead to financial losses.
“For organisations, the employment of individuals with fake qualifications brings the risk of losing credibility and manifestation of dishonesty in their job performance.
“Although the challenge may be staggering, academic institutions and industries alike have no alternative but to come together and combat this unethical practice. The most basic is having a robust process of verification while, at the same time, we need to understand the reasons, scope and the various implications brought upon by academic dishonesty,” she said.