Integrity is an inseparable part of academia
As society addresses the issue of buying and selling study papers, Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) emphasises that it takes firm action against any violations of academic integrity – be it plagiarism, data falsification, purchasing study papers from so called essay mills, using prohibited aids, or cheating. By educating new students about these matters the university puts equal effort into eliminating dishonesty and its timely prevention. Nora Jansone-Ratinika, the Director of the RSU Centre for Educational Growth, Māris Lapšovs, the Chairman of the board of the RSU Student Union, and Rolands Bļujus, the RSU E-studies Manager who is responsible for use of the Internet-based plagiarism detection service Turnitin, tell us more about these measures.
In addition to detecting and combating various expressions of plagiarism a higher education institution must also invest resources in prevention. Nora Jansone-Ratinika stresses that academic integrity should be considered from at least three perspectives: the individual, the institutional and the state, or international, perspective. Joint efforts of representatives from the education sector should be aimed at promoting a culture of honesty which is expressed both through common understanding of what that entails, and through practical habits. This should be done on an individual level starting with school pupils, and up through students and university lecturers.
Often the violations of content originality which are discovered are not the result of deliberate fraud, rather these violations are caused by a lack of knowledge and understanding about how to integrate content authored by others into one's own work in a responsible manner. It is important to ensure that these requirements are defined and consistently observed and enforced at the institution and even among institutions. Improvements of regulations at the state level would effectively reduce the flourishing commerce of dishonesty, as examples from other countries indicate.
Plagiarism is prohibited by the RSU Internal Regulations which have been made publicly available on the RSU home page. The RSU Student Union considers academic integrity one of its priorities. Māris Lapšovs accentuates, ‘We have always been against any violations of academic integrity – from cheating to purchasing study papers. When you become a student at a university, your primary purpose should be to acquire new knowledge and skills that will aid you in the job market. If you buy a paper or a thesis, the student is the one who loses most, because, firstly, they have not learned anything new and useful and, secondly, the quality of these "conveyor-produced" papers will always be below the level of the student’s own output in which they would invest time and work. As a result, even if the student manages to pass the test, they are left with no knowledge and a low-quality study paper.’
Nora Jansone-Ratinika adds that in this situation society suffers along with the student, because if the future specialist continues to act in this manner in their professional field, they may be unable to perform their duties to an appropriate quality standard which may cause serious risks to fellow citizens, and to the country in general. The Ministry of Education and Science has initiated a project ‘To Ensure Better Management at Higher Education Institutions’. This project is financed by the European Social Fund (ESF) and promotes cooperation and partnership between educational institutions. Within the parameters of the project RSU, the Riga Technical University, the University of Latvia and the Red Cross Medical College of Rīga Stradiņš University have jointly undertaken to implement the following initiatives over the course of five years:
1) To develop harmonised ethical principles and principles of academic integrity;
2) To develop an e-study course on academic integrity that would also be made available to other higher education institutions;
3) To exchange experience of implementing the best practices to ensure academic integrity.
The aforementioned insitutions invite other Latvian educational institutions to join this strategic partnership.
Systems that help to verify the originality of contents
RSU uses two anti-plagiarism systems – RSU has joined a computerised inter-university plagiarism control system and in 2015 RSU became the first higher education institution in Latvia to introduce Turnitin. Turnitin is an electronic anti-plagiarism, correction and evaluation system, and is currently considered the most advanced in the world.
The Turnitin tool is fully integrated within the RSU e-study system and provides full service for submitting papers – submision, correction, verification of originality and return. Turnitin is used daily by millions of students and academics around the world. Turnitin offers two main platforms – Originality Check and GradeMark-ETS & QuickMark. Originality Check automatically analyses the percentage of non-genuine content in a paper. It checks the paper against its own database of submitted papers as well as compares the paper online against scientific publications, e-books, and papers submitted by other students anywhere in the world. The database is continually expanding. GradeMark+ETS & QuickMark is the other platform, and it provides the opportunity to correct the submitted papers electronically. It makes lecturers’ lives easier, because it greatly speeds up and improves the quality of correction.
A little more than a year ago the university received international recognition in the Writing with Integrity category for introducing Turnitin and became a positive example for using the system in Europe. ‘Previously students submitted their papers on a flash drive and the originality of their papers was verified manually using a limited database from our library. Now everything is done through the e-study system. The lecturer can create assignment, set a submission deadline, and the students upload their papers. As soon as the papers have been uploaded, the system verifies their originality and prepares a report on the sources from which the content has been copied,’ says Rolands Bļujus. The accessibility and user-friendliness of the system are the reasons behind the success of Turnitin at RSU and other higher education institutions all over the world.
Nora Jansone-Ratinika accentuates that RSU’s approach to use Turnitin to verify all student assignments, not only bachelor's and master's theses, enables the system to provide support during the entire process and prevents situations where plagiarism is discovered too late. News from the Centre for Educational Growth indicates that the development of artificial intelligence provides more and more options that are not limited to merely establishing the percentage of plagiarism in content. Stylometry, which is a method of establishing authorship, analyses texts (including music, works of art, manuscripts and even programming codes) and can recognise the style and characteristics of a particular author. This can help establish the authorship of the examined object.
Steps taken in case of plagiarism
If a student's paper shows indications of plagiarism the lecturer writes an application to the head of the study programme. The student’s opinion is taken into consideration – they are invited to a department meeting to provide explanations. As a result the student receives a warning and is asked to rewrite the paper. The new version of the paper is then graded lower than it would have been otherwise. More serious and repeated cases of plagiarism are considered by deans, and even the rector, and the student may face expulsion from the university. Cases of repeated plagiarism by the same student are, however, very rare at RSU – explanations and the first warning usually suffice.
Most cases of plagiarism are not the result of a malicious intent, but usually stems from insufficient understanding of how to use references, or the meaning of intellectual property. This applies to first year students particularly as they tend to use essays that they find online or rewrite published works without providing adequate references. Therefore RSU helps its students to learn the basics of research work, including the correct usage of references. Secondary schools could contribute considerably by implementing stricter controls on pupils' written papers by explaining plagiarism and how to avoid it by appropriately referencing somebody else's ideas.
The goal of the project is to strengthen RSU’s competitiveness by modernising study programmes according to the developing needs of society and the sector. It also promotes the link between research and studies, improves governance processes, and improving the skills of management staff. The total financing of the project is 2,290,800 EUR of which 1,947,180 EUR is co-funded by the European Social Fund and 343,620 EUR is from the state budget.