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LCQ13: Plagiarism and frauds in research results

     Following is a question by the Hon Cheung Man-kwong and a written reply by the Secretary for Education, Mr Michael Suen, in the Legislative Council today (June 3):


     I have learnt that quite a number of scholars have criticised the existing mechanism by which the University Grants Committee ("UGC") allocates research funds to funded institutions, saying that the mechanism has caused funded institutions to place emphasis on research work and neglect teaching, and it is also conducive to plagiarism and frauds in research results.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it will review the existing criteria for UGC to allocate research funds, so as to ensure that funded institutions will not, in pursuit of more resources, place too much emphasis on research work; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(b) whether it knows the respective numbers and the relevant trend of the complaints, received by each funded institution in the past three school years, regarding plagiarism, frauds in research results, listing another person's name(s) as co-author(s) of a work without the original author's prior consent, as well as stealing and publishing another person's research data, together with a breakdown of these numbers by the academic relationship between the complainant and the person under complaint and their positions and, among them, of the number of substantiated cases, the number of published academic articles involving plagiarism and frauds in research results which were withdrawn by the academic journals, as well as the penalties imposed on the persons concerned;

(c) whether it knows if funded institutions have set up independent and impartial mechanisms for dealing with the relevant complaints, so that the persons concerned dare to lodge complaints without fear of being penalised by the institutions in the future; if they have, of the mechanisms of various institutions; if not, the reasons for that; and

(d) whether at present it has set up an independent and impartial mechanism to deal with complaints lodged by the persons concerned who consider that their respective institutions have not dealt with their complaints impartially?



(a) We consider that teaching and research are complementary to each other. Teaching staff in institutions have to participate in research activities in order to teach their students cutting edge knowledge of their fields, to cultivate students' interest in research and to encourage students to actively acquire new ideas on their own initiative.

     Of the block grant allocated by the University Grants Committee (UGC) to institutions, only about 23% is for research; about 75% is for teaching; and the remaining 2% is for professional activities.  These figures show that the UGC has not neglected teaching by placing too much emphasis on research work.  We note that only a small number of individual researchers are involved in plagiarism and frauds.  Compared with over 20,000 research papers published by local researchers each year, there were only eight relevant complaints cases lodged in the past three years with three cases found substantiated.  

     The UGC has set up a Higher Education Review Group to conduct the Higher Education Review 2009, which is now underway.  The target of the review is to come up with, in the first half of 2010, a forward looking document that can assist the Government and the public in reflecting on the purposes of higher education, world trends, and hence the strategies for Hong Kong's higher education system.  The review will also cover the research support strategy and research funding mechanism for higher education.  

(b) According to the information provided by UGC-funded institutions, a total of eight complaints were received in the past three academic years about plagiarism, frauds in research results, listing another person's name(s) as co-author(s) of a work without prior consent, or stealing and publishing another person's research data.  Among them, three were subsequently found substantiated, resulting in the withdrawal of the academic papers in question.  Statistics and details of the complaint cases are set out at Annex I and II respectively.

(c) All UGC-funded institutions have independent mechanisms and procedures for dealing with complaints about misconduct, such as plagiarism and frauds in research results.  They have also formulated disciplinary regulations or codes of practice, setting out the acts to be avoided and the mechanisms and procedures for handling complaints, for reference by teaching and research staff.  In general, an institution will refer a complaint to a standing disciplinary board or conduct committee, or set up an independent committee to investigate the complaint. The board or committee is comprised of external members or people who have no conflict of interest in the case to ensure that the investigation is conducted in a fair and impartial manner.  The identity of the complainant and details of the complaint are kept confidential to fully protect the privacy of the complainant.  If the complainant feels aggrieved by the result of the investigation, he may appeal through an appeal mechanism.  When a complaint is found substantiated, the institution concerned will take appropriate disciplinary action.
(d) All institutions, having regard to their unique circumstances, have set up their own mechanisms to deal with complaints about suspected plagiarism and frauds in research results.  Pursuant to the principles of academic freedom and institutional autonomy, such complaints should be handled by the institutions themselves in accordance with their respective procedures and mechanisms.

Ends/Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Issued at HKT 15:35


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