By Adele Albanawi
JEDDAH — A number of university teachers have expressed concern about the growing trend among Saudi university students to plagiarize academic material while presenting research work.
The acknowledgment of the issue by the academics confirms that Saudi universities failed to educate their students about the unethical practice and warn them about its negative consequences.
Yahya Aldolhmi, a lecturer at King Saud University, said plagiarism is a habit among students of all backgrounds and Saudi students are no exception.
“Some students may plagiarize due to their ignorance about what constitutes plagiarism and how to avoid it, especially at the commencement of their program,” Aldolhmi said.
He said there are several potential reasons for students to plagiarize. “Some students do not receive sufficient training about academic ethics and integrity and hence, they downplay the risks of academic misconduct,” he said.
“Besides, some students get into university without acquiring good language skills and when they start their degree they are not prepared to write academic papers in a professional manner. Unfortunately, there are students who only seek a degree and they care less about knowledge and intellectuality. Lastly, the education system in Saudi Arabia does not seem to have an established, clear and a strict policy against plagiarism in schools and universities.”
Mohammed Asiri, a lecturer at King Abdulaziz University, insists that a lack of respect for knowledge is the main cause of plagiarism.
“The absence of deterrent regulations against plagiarism might encourage students to commit this crime,” Asiri said.
He said the root of the problem underlies in the public education system. “The lack of real supervision in public education to prevent students from stealing homework or cheating during exams will lead them to continue cheating at university level and possibly beyond,” he said.
“The concept of plagiarism is not very clear to Saudis. Students do not understand the problems in copying other people’s work because they think it is just a matter of borrowing for a good reason,” said Dr. Rowaida Bakri, an assistant professor at Umm Al-Qura University.
“Unfortunately plagiarism starts on a small scale but with time students apply it on a larger scale without thinking about its consequences or how unethical the practice is. They think it is okay to steal as long as it doesn’t harm others,” she said.
Dr. Suliman Alomran, a lecturer at King Saud University, said in the United States and Britain copying an idea without referencing the source is treated as plagiarizing.
“A fellow of mine who had a good command of English was expelled from the university in his senior year because he bought homework for a subject he studied. Another fellow, who was poor in English skills submitted his friend’s work as his own. He was exposed and was given an F,” Al-Omran said.
The academics suggested several practical solutions to put an end to the ugly phenomenon.
“In my view, plagiarism just like any other academic misconduct should be discussed and warned against from the an early stage of schooling. Saudi schools must come up with some regulations that guarantee academic integrity in students’ work and also raise awareness about plagiarism. This awareness would them when they go abroad for higher studies,” Aldolhmi said.
According to Asir, the government should issue regulations to prevent plagiarism and students should be obliged to sign upon registration a pledge to not plagiarize, which is done in most Western universities.
“An educational solution begins with manifesting the value of knowledge among students. Culturally people should learn how to express themselves properly, so the need to steal and claim other people’s will not arise,” Asiri said.
“Finally, students should be reminded that plagiarism is a form of cheating and there are many sayings of the Prophet that strictly forbid cheating and deception,” he added.
Dr. Bakri suggested teaching students the important consequences of plagiarism on their life and how it could affect their future.