Poland’s universities brace for struggle against plagiarism

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Poland’s Science Ministry announced that a new Single Anti-plagiarism System would go live in early 2019. Available for free for both public and non-public educational institutions, the system has raised doubts among some academics due to uncertainty as to the details concerning its implementation.

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According to recent data, the problem of plagiarism could affect between 20 and 30 percent of all university theses – a problem exacerbated by the abundance of readily available online sources.

Plagiarism accusations can occasionally have a devastating effect on one’s career, as one of Angela Merkel’s ministers famously learned to his dismay back in 2011, but Poland was likewise not free from plagiarism scandals. One of the high-ranking officials of Poland’s largest opposition parties, in addition to corruption charges, was accused of copying large chunks of someone else’s doctoral thesis, while allegations of multiple plagiarism have recently called the future of government-backed candidate for the post of Children’s Ombudsman into question.

Poland’s universities are already under the obligation to combat this highly unethical phenomenon, although the absence of unified standards and tools makes this something of a losing battle. Enter the government-sanctioned Single Anti-plagiarism System, expected to debut in early 2019 and set to replace the multitude of third-party or proprietary systems in use today.

The new system is being developed at the Information Processing Centre, a national research unit operating under the supervision of Poland’s Science Ministry. The system is expected to use the data contained in a constantly updated repository and will be mandatory for all dissertations and doctoral theses once the entire infrastructure goes live. The system itself will be free for all academic institutions, be it public or non-public.

The Ministry has announced that a series of tests will be performed between September 25 and November 21 this year in Poland’s major cities, but this did not allay fears of some academics who worry about the details of the project’s implementation.

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The writing on the wall

The wirtualnemedia.pl website dedicated to Poland’s media market quoted a number of academia members who raised concerns, among other issues, of the cost associated with populating the immense repository as well as the associated legal issues.

Other possible issues cited included the methodology of verification as well as the repository itself.

Since only Polish-language dissertations and archived websites would be scanned as comparative material, some have pointed out that the system would easily miss plagiarized materials originating from foreign-language sources which students are now resorting to increasingly often in the course of their study.

One university professor cited by the website also pointed out that the system will do nothing to reduce the pressing issue of dissertation ghostwriting companies that are becoming increasingly popular among those unwilling to face the challenge of honing their writing skills.

Professor Jerzy Woźnicki, head of the Foundation of Polish Rectors, has suggested that raising awareness among students would go a long way towards mitigating the issue, pointing out that from 2005 onwards, Polish law provides that copyright violations do not become time-barred.

“It is not worth it, because the risk of being caught will hang above you for the rest of your life,” the professor was quoted as saying, adding that students need to be made aware that ultimately, the most important thing one acquires through education “is in one’s head and not on a piece of paper”.