Founding a Bangladesh Higher Education Research Council is the way forward after the Plagiarism Scandal

Publish: 9:37 PM, September 19, 2020 | Update: 9:37:PM, September 19, 2020

Dr P R Datta

Researchers are the truth seekers. They seek to investigate, analyse, and interpret a phenomenon or event. They do the test to bring the evidence. They do not speculate and there is no room for speculation for real researchers. The quest for proof is an eternal one for them. Whilst some researchers will lose themselves in speculation, those with method will always set to the task with a view to seeking out and testing evidence. Any possible evidence needs to be tested, documented, verified and where possible corroborated. Rogue results, often caused by human error, tend to throw entire findings, hence the importance of repeat tests, multiple observations, random sampling, and benchmarking. Any academic researcher should take the path of academic honesty and integrity to bring out the truth through their robust yet systematic research. However, one of the biggest problems the that the entire scientific/research community is facing is to ensure that researchers are honest and have the appropriate mind set about their research. It is of paramount importance that any information they have taken from other sources is fully acknowledged and that they avoid any types of academic dishonesty. Plagiarism is one of the most common threats for this academia and the field of research. In general, university academics and researchers are always well respected and trusted by others due to their high integrity and social commitments, but sadly, from time and time we discover that some are not always following the right path, rather they engage in short-cut methods and seek to deceive.

Recently, one news story that was published in Bangladeshi Online News portal (bdnews24.com) on the 10th September entitled: Dhaka University teacher Samia-Marzana Plagiarism prove caught our attention, it states that two of the prominent academics from Dhaka University published several academic papers and these were later found to have been heavily plagiarised. One paper used five pages of plagiarised materials from other previously published articles in Critical Enquiry in 1982 from the University of Chicago authored by a French Philosopher. Bangladesh academics published their article in the Journal of Social Science Review published by Dhaka University.

We all understand that researchers must endeavour to be as detached and as objective as is humanly possible and that this should be their research mantra and responsibility. The actuality should be their chief focus to justify their research. Whilst conjecture has its place, it is important to strive to ensure that research recreates real life situations or is as realistic as possible. Such an approach helps minimise divergence, and thus makes findings all the more pertinent. Currently, the expectation of publishing scientific and technical papers has increased significantly both in academic and professional communities. It is usually expected by respective institutions that a member of the academic staff will publish the results of his research work in a reputed journal, preferably an international one. Academics need to ensure that their research is peer-reviewed and measured against quality research being done further afield. One of the greatest dangers that any academic community faces is parochialism and the intellectual myopia that results, hence the importance of Bangladeshi academics submitting their work for scrutiny internationally.

Let us make no mistake, plagiarism is intellectual theft, and raises serious questions about a person’s honesty, integrity, and moral compass. If they are prepared to plagiarise for academic kudos or advancement, what other questionable activity are they up to? Academic theft of this nature is a grave matter that warrants a robust response. Individuals do not accidently plagiarise whole pages of someone else’s research, they have done it knowingly with the aim of benefitting from their deception. What is all the more tragic is that they invariably express regret, yet in truth the only thing they really regret is being found out. We must be alive to the excuses and supposed mitigating circumstances that will be wheeled out. They have stolen and they should be named and shamed as a common thief would be and face serious sanctions. Sadly, it is often the case that people who willingly engage in such activity are just as liable to tell mistruths on the Curriculum Vitae or cut corners in other ways professionally. Certainly, the issue of a trust deficit becomes a very real concern. Equally, it is vital that the seriousness of what has taken place is downplayed or that those found to have engaged in such activity should be shielded from censure, or endeavour to use their name, connections or public profile to try and avoid being held to account. What has been done not only shames them and their family, it brings dishonour on the journal that published the paper, to any institution that the author/authors was associated, and ultimately it has brought Bangladesh into disrepute. Sadly, because of this sorry affair many scholarly international journals may well look with suspicion on papers submitted by academics based in Bangladesh.

It is heartening that matters have been investigated, but it also raises a number of issues that are germane to discussions, namely precautions and whether institutions such as universities are routinely using software to detect plagiarism whether this be from academics or students. It is imperative that institutions actively encourage their staff to put their research in the public domain via publication in scholarly journals, but currently this seems to being done in a haphazard fashion without robust criteria being in place. It is all very well censuring the dishonest academics, but what about the local journal that accepted and published their part plagiarised paper? There are legitimate questions to be asked, especially of local journals, all too often dazzled by academics who have a supposed reputation or standing locally. There will always be a small percentage of textual similarities, but what has been taking place is dishonesty that is as audacious as it is blatant. Most (probably all) prestigious international journals have measures in place to detect such activity, in many cases top reviewers can detect such academic theft. Important academic journals follow stringent international codes of ethics and each works diligently to promote such standards and raise awareness of the danger of plagiarism. It should be mandatory for all institutions of higher education sin Bangladesh to have Plagiarism policies with clear guidelines and sanctions, with these also accessible via the institution’s website. Every HE institution should be required to subscribe to www.turnitin.com as a matter of course.

So how on earth should Bangladesh move forward on this issue? Well, as a matter of urgency the most important thing that the country can do at this juncture is to establish a Bangladesh Higher Education Research Council, with a view to giving leadership a clear focus to academic research and ensuring that the country aspires to be in the research mainstream internationally. It is imperative that many more Bangladeshis are encouraged to undertake ground-breaking research that is required to be submitted to non-Bangladeshi academic peer-reviewed academic journals. A robust and outward looking research process enables a far more objective assessment of originality, something that fosters critical thinking and benchmarking. There are plenty of excellent examples out there that Bangladesh should seek to learn from and emulate. Efforts should be being made to reach out to the International Center for Academic Integrity and policy makers, leadership teams and academics should be regularly familiarising themselves with the International Journal for Educational Integrity.

The establishment of a Bangladesh Higher Education Research Council would be an excellent first step. It would be a signal of intent, one that would tell the world that Bangladesh is fully committed to playing its part in global research excellence. From there then Bangladesh can set itself the goal of ensuring that it features more prominently in the World Intellectual Property Indicators, by ensure that it invents and seeks to patent its inventions and industrial design. By focussing on homegrown talent Bangladesh can help prepare for the challenges ahead, whilst making sure it keeps an eye on global competitors with a view to outdoing them through its own resourcefulness, ingenuity, and targeted research. Let us not forget, it is the tree that we plant today that will provide fruit and shade in the future.

The Writer is Executive Chair, Centre for Business & Economic Research, UK