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LCQ12: Plagiarism among university students


    Following is a question by the Ir Dr Hon Ho Chung-tai and a written reply by the Secretary for Education and Manpower, Professor Arthur K C Li, in the Legislative Council today (May 4):


    It has been reported that it has become a common phenomenon among university students to plagiarise assignments and hire "ghostwriters" to do the assignments for them. Some university students hired other persons to do their assignments throughout the three-year studies and escaped notice. They even graduated with high scores. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council whether it knows:

(a) the numbers of cases in the past three years involving plagiarism and hiring of "ghostwriters" by students of various local universities, and whether the students involved were punished; if so, of the details;

(b) the guidelines issued by local universities to their teaching staff on handling cases involving such practices, and the details of the relevant monitoring mechanism; and

(c) the measures adopted by local universities to improve the situation?


Madam President,

    According to the information provided by the University Grants Committee (UGC)-funded institutions and the Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK), the number of cases involving plagiarism by undergraduate and postgraduate students in the past three years is as follows ?

  Academic Year         Total number of cases

  *************         *********************

    2001/02                     33 cases

    2002/03                     41 cases

    2003/04                     66 cases

    2004/05                     22 cases

   (up to 15.4.2005)

    Given that plagiarism and "ghostwriting" are difficult to distinguish, most of the institutions do not classify "ghostwriting" cases separately and therefore no statistics on this can be provided.

    Plagiarism cases detected by institutions usually involve copying or using others' materials without proper acknowledgement or permission, submitting projects or papers that were previously submitted by other students, and copying assignments from each other. Punishment levied on the students involved in such cases varies, depending on the circumstances and seriousness of the offences. Broadly speaking, punishment can take the following forms ?

(i) termination of study and expulsion;

(ii) suspension of study, postponement of graduation, or withholding transcripts and academic awards;

(iii) oral or written reprimand, or demerit on student record;

(iv) a lower grade or a failure grade to be awarded to the assignment or the course concerned;

(v) suspension or withdrawal of privileges, rights, and benefits; and

(vi) fine.

(b) All UGC-funded institutions and OUHK have their own regulations and guidelines on academic integrity, which cover plagiarism and hiring of "ghostwriters". In general, faculties and departments are reminded to alert their students to the importance of academic integrity; to draw students' attention to the regulations and guidelines; and to advise students on ways to prevent plagiarism and other dishonest acts. Teaching staff should report to the academic department concerned suspected cases of dishonest acts for investigation and follow-up action. The department can escalate it to the faculty concerned or other appropriate body within the institution for further action or disciplinary action.

(c) Although the above statistics do not suggest that plagiarism and the hiring of "ghostwriters" have become a common phenomenon in the higher education sector, all our institutions consider plagiarism a serious misconduct. They are taking positive measures to uphold academic honesty and prevent possible deterioration of the situation.

    Institutions adopt a two-pronged approach: by offering education and deterrents. On education, students are taught academic honesty and proper citation through various channels, such as student handbooks, notices, student newspapers, workshops, etc. Students are also required by some institutions to sign a declaration or undertaking to the effect that they will be honest in their studies.

    If necessary, the institutions will also adopt measures which have a deterrent effect on plagiarism and "ghostwriting" ?

(i) with the proliferation of information and availability of "ghostwriting" services on the Internet, institutions are using special software and other web-based services to detect plagiarism and "ghostwriting", and prevent copying of library materials;

(ii) faculties are reminded to stay alert and work out appropriate mechanisms to prevent and detect dishonest acts. For example, coursework can be designed so that copying is difficult; and

(iii) publication of cases involving plagiarism and hiring of "ghostwriting" services and the penalties imposed.

Ends/Wednesday, May 4, 2005


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