Fake, plagiarised dissertations and half-baked graduates

IMOLEAYO OYEDEJI and LUCKY UKPERI investigate the unscholarly acts by students of institutions of higher learning in the country to write their dissertations, including plagiarism and paying others to write for them, which in the long run tell on the quality of graduates produced by the institutions, run through a plagiarism checker.

THE business centres/cafés located around the Students’ Union building within The Polytechnic, Ibadan campus was a beehive when Sunday Tribune visited. Two young men were seen busy working on a computer system. Sunday Tribune approached one of them.

“Good afternoon, please, we need someone who can assist a friend in writing his HND project,” Sunday Tribune said to the young man.

“We don’t do that here,” the young man replied offering to call somebody who could be of help. He raised his voice and called a name. Another young man emerged from behind his shop and he directed Sunday Tribune to meet him.

“Good afternoon, please, a friend of mine needs someone to assist him to write his final year project; he needs the topics to submit first,” we told him.

The young man asked some for some information about the prospective client’s department and was told Business Administration.

“Okay, wait,” he said and went inside a shop, brought out some files belonging to students who had contracted him to write their essays. The passport photographs of the students were stapled to the files. From one of the files, he brought out a sheet of paper with three topics. One was already approved for the original owner.

“Use your phone to snap these topics and send to the person,” he said.

“But, this has been approved for somebody else,” the reporter protested.

“Don’t worry, there is no problem,” was his reply.

A bargain was struck on the entire cost of the project including binding which was agreed for N30,000.

The foregoing is a typical scenario of students wanting to write their dissertations for a fee; a scenario that could be easily duplicated across most of the tertiary institutions’ campuses in the country.

In the academic world, research is very important. The academic institutions exist as a matter of duty to interrogate nature and/or the environment and explore the universe of being to accommodate both the visible and the unseen. These interrogations or otherwise researches connect man to his universe, making it possible for the innumerable breakthroughs that have been recorded overtime. This informed the symbiotic relationship that exists between the “town and gown,” whereby the academic community is expected to impact its immediate environment and by extension the society at large.

The academic environment in Nigeria and other parts of the world is not expected to be different. Unfortunately, the relationship that should exist between town and gown is largely non-existent in Nigeria as most of the researches done in the country’s institutions of higher learning had not impacted on the larger society.

One of the reasons, is the absence of researches that are original in the real sense, though those that were original had not been fully implemented in the society.

Stories abound of students who simply yank off the covers of old projects by other researchers and simply create a new cover for theirs just to earn the grades.  Lecturers are also accomplices in this academic fraud just as students the main culprits had shown so much laziness in carrying out researches that they outsource this essential aspect of scholarship.

Dr Adesina Afolayan, Sub-Dean of Post-Graduate College, University of Ibadan, who is also a senior lecturer in the Department of Philosophy, defined plagiarism as the act of presenting someone else’s intellectual property as one’s own without due, appropriate references or acknowledgment.

Narrating his experience on the issue, Dr. Afolayan said: “Personally, I have had two encounters. Interestingly, one happened when I was at the Philosophy Department as the student librarian. Then, I would sit in the library and the students, especially those from other universities, would come in.

“Being the librarian, I usually became the first person the students talk to upon entering the library. The question I often asked anyone of the students who approached me for assistance was what they were working on. Then, they would tell me that they were at the library for project writing.

“With enthusiasm and eagerness, I would quickly rush to the shelves to bring them several recent projects with different topics. But the response the students gave each time I brought out the projects was always shocking to me. Instead of acknowledging my effort, the students would show me their project topics and ask me for old projects written on topics related to theirs. Initially, I didn’t understand, but later on, it dawned on me that all what they wanted then was just to take the old projects very close to theirs to a photocopier and dub the entire pages. And then, start taking the dubbed projects to their lecturers chapter by chapter.”

“My second experience happened when I became a lecturer. On that fateful day, I decided to re-read one of my published works online and I logged on to Google. And then, I saw a similar title to mine. I clicked on it. And unbelievably, I saw my work copied entirely from the first word in the introduction to the last in the references. The person only changed the title slightly but the entire report was my work. I was shocked. I looked at it again. I was dumb-founded. I immediately wrote the journal to tell them what I had discovered with proofs to show that the work they had published is my work. And the journal retracted the long essay. I called the man who sent the report to the journal and he was apologetic. He mumbled some nonsense on phone and it all ended,” he recalled.

A lecturer at The Polytechnic, Ibadan, who would not want to be identified stated that cases of students either outsourcing their final year long essays or outright plagiarising other people’s researches have become rampart and cannot be denied. He noted that plagiarism has become a troubling culture that is further worsened by the socio-economic situation and unemployment in the country.

Sharing his experience with Sunday Tribune, he explained that these students felt no qualms about their actions.  According to him, they did not see anything wrong.

“A particular student submitted topics for his ND essay. I picked one and asked the student to go ahead and submit the first chapter based on the departmental guidelines given to every final year students. When the student returned with the first chapter after a week, I became suspicious as the work was too perfect and error-free despite the fact that I know the student’s academic abilities. Nevertheless, I played along and asked for the second chapter which the student submitted within a week.

“I noticed it was still flawless and was clearly another person’s work. Then, I quizzed the student only for him to confess that someone at a cyber café had been writing the project for him. I insisted I wanted to see the person who was responsible for the writing and the student went to call the writer. When they both came, the project writer told me that the student had paid N15,000 for the project and that he only downloaded the project online instead of writing it personally.

“Immediately, I took the matter to the HOD and the student was given another topic to work on under a close supervision while the ‘contractor-writer’ was warned to desist from selling other people’s intellectual materials to students,” he said.

Also speaking with Sunday Tribune, a Head of Department at the University of Ibadan who didn’t want his name in print narrated how a female student raised a false alarm that her supervisor was not cooperating because he doubted and questioned the authenticity of her first degree long essay. The supervisor, who has more than two decades experience in the system had discovered that the student was copying from sources which she did not acknowledge.

“The lecturer withdrew from supervising her essay and handed her to the HOD who conducted a test to verify the authenticity of the girl’s work and discovered that she had plagiarised more than 70 per cent of the essay. Thus, she was assigned to another supervisor and asked to pick another topic to write on.”

But why do students engage in such academic malpractice. Adeyemo Kamarudeen, a 400-level student of the Department of Arabic & Islamic Studies, University of Ibadan said: “academic laziness is simply the reason students imbibe the appalling act. Many of them don’t want to work, yet they want to have the best of projects and academic grades.”

Attesting to this, a lecturer who simply identified himself as Mr. Ade at The Polytechnic, Ibadan, said: “today, many young people take pride in being recognised as students of higher institutions without wanting to take the responsibility that studentship entails – studiousness, diligence, hardworking, inquisitiveness and developing problem-solving skills which the research essays or projects are meant to teach them.”

Advancement in Information and Communication Technology is one thing that has facilitated plagiarism. There are other reasons. According to Dr Afolayan: “As far as I am concerned plagiarism is caused by both ignorance on the part of students and intellectual laziness on the part of lecturers; and with the system not actively engaging in terms of curbing it, plagiarism has becomes pandemic.”

“It begins to grow and fill all over the place. We need people who love the system; lecturers, especially who are gatekeepers. They must stand and begin to check at several points. From the undergraduate to the doctoral students, all are human capitals that are feeding the Nigerian society. And if the university is the laboratory where these people are baked, then, we must cook them very well or else, we begin to inflict on the Nigerian society half-baked graduates who will eventually graduate but won’t be able to defend their academic project or grades.”

Sunday Tribune visited one of the cyber cafes where this act is perpetrated at The Polytechnic Ibadan and discovered that the contracted project writers charge between N20,000 and N25,000 for the ‘downloading’ of a full project. Similarly, when the reporter visited one of the shops at the complex opposite the University of Ibadan second gate, one of the project writers said he charges N35,000 for undergraduate projects and N50,000 for Master’s degree dissertations. The young man who confirmed he is also a student of the university disclosed that most of his clients are postgraduate students. Most undergraduates, he stated, don’t always pay as demanded.

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Reading in the library

Dealing with the problem

According to EduCeleb.com, an online education website, over 63 lecturers across five Nigerian institutions have been sacked for varied engagements in plagiarism within the past six years. The Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB) has witnessed four cases while the University of Calabar had recorded no fewer than 17 cases of senior lecturers and professors; some of them were sacked while others were demoted. The three other institutions that had been fingered in the act include the Delta State University, Yaba College of Technology and the Nekede Polytechnic in Imo state.

“It is just appalling and heart-rending that the very lecturers that have been assigned to supervise undergraduate and post graduate students are the ones caught in the web of plagiarism. It simply shows that many of them will be lenient with any of their students discovered to have plagiarized their work,” a senior lecturer in the Department of Communication and Language Arts of the University of Ibadan, Dr. Gbenga Elegbe, said in an interview with Sunday Tribune.

Though Sunday Tribune learnt that efforts are being made by the managements of the universities, particularly at the level of National Universities Commission (NUC to stem the tide. To protect its reputation, the University of Ibadan management, according to Dr Afolayan, has put in place the plagiarism test which, findings show, has been efficient.

“For the plagiarism test, we have a Turn-it-in machine which highlights all the similarities between a student’s work and those of other people. When the similarities highlighted by this machine get to certain percentage, then we begin to suspect. For the University of Ibadan Postgraduate School, we have pegged that level of similarities to 24 per cent. Any work which has over 24 per cent similarities with other works is problematic and will definitely be suspected. But anything below 24 per cent is acceptable.

“Aside the plagiarism test, we have also started what we call ‘the depth of thesis’ where someone in the field of study where the thesis is written on takes a deep study of it to address basic methodology issues ranging from the statement of the problem to the research design,” Dr. Afolayan explained.

According to the UniversityWorldNews, a team of researchers led by Dr. Toyin Enikuomehin at the Lagos State University has also developed new, more sophisticated and more anti-plagiarism software to detect plagiarised works across Nigerian institutions.

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