15 February 2019

Namibia: Whose Degree Is It Anyway, Students?

opinion

University students, I have deliberately chosen to address the contentious issue of academic dishonesty and cheating at the beginning of your first semester so that you can be warned of the consequences of academic fraud before it is too late.

Some of you are starting your degree programmes, some are in their second and third years of their studies, and others are in their final year. No matter at which level you are, what I am addressing here affects you directly and indirectly in the quest to restore academic integrity and put a stop to academic cheating that is prevalent in our universities in Namibia and other universities in the world.

In the final analysis, when you have worked for and earned your degree without fraud, you should be able to boldly and confidently answer the question: Whose degree is it? You should be able to say "it is mine", without shame or prejudice.

Higher education institutions (HEIs) the world over are grappling with the perennial issue of various forms of academic dishonesty and cheating (what I refer to here as academic sins) among tertiary students. While some cheating students are caught and disciplinary measures are taken against them, others slip through the net and graduate having done little academic work for themselves.

It is disturbing to note that cases of cheating are increasing year by year. For example, cases of academic cheating that were compiled by the Guardian newspaper from Britain's Russell Group of universities revealed that cheating had shot up by 40 percent between 2014-2015 and 2016-2017 academic years.

There are various forms of academic misconducts or academic crimes/sins that students commit. It is an open secret now that many students hire and pay other people to write assignments, projects and theses/dissertations for them.

This has become a lucrative business in Namibia for some learned people from a neighbouring country which is a powerhouse of education, who are now making a killing, charging students huge sums of money to have their work done. The danger of this illicit business is that students will have their assignments written by people who are not specialists in their areas of study.

For example, someone who studied psychology will claim that he can write an assignment in English literature, say on William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice, just because he cannot let money go by being honest to a client who does not even ask what qualifications the 'businessman' possesses.

There is a big syndicate of these academic 'businessmen' who are writing assignments and projects for students in higher education institutions in Namibia.

Students must be warned that it is a pure academic misconduct to have their assignments, projects and theses/dissertations written by someone. Students must learn by doing these scholarly pieces of work by themselves so that they can become knowledgeable when they complete their degree programmes.

The students must be able to display certain competencies which can only be acquired through writing their own assignments, projects and theses after conducting research, and not through someone doing the work for them.

For whatever reason, some students pay other students or ordinary people to disguise themselves and cheat through the examination screening structures and enter the examination venues to write examinations for them. There are people who specialise in writing exams for students. They are called exam impersonators. Some impersonators dare advertise their obnoxious services without any shred of shame. Just imagine the criminality involved here; both the student who hires the impersonator and the impersonator are academic criminals who deserve to be ruthlessly punished.

In some circles, this exam scam has been termed euphemistically "Pens for Hire" just to downplay the gravity of the scandal. This is a serious crime that should be condemned from all corners of academia and civil society. Higher education institutions are urged to tighten their security checkpoints so that they can catch these exam impersonators and drag them to courts of law.

When a student uses someone else's words and ideas as their own without acknowledging the source, we say the student has committed an academic crime called plagiarism. It is important to always attribute the ideas and words that you have taken from an academic source by using appropriate referencing styles that are allowed in a specific area.

Usually, university departments make it clear to students at the beginning about how they prefer academic attribution to be made in written assignments, projects and theses/dissertations. It is disturbing to note the rampant cases of plagiarism in our institutions; plagiarism is widespread and this is actually sickening. Copying and pasting material from the internet is one form of academic dishonesty that is strongly condemned. Some students use the google search engine and find other people's work and they copy the work and present it as theirs. This is completely wrong and the student should be punished mercilessly if detected.

Other types of academic dishonesty include copying a friend's assignments or allowing friends to copy your assignment, bribing lecturers and tutors in order to pass a test or exam, copying from prepared notes during tests and exams, submitting the same assignment or project in two different courses, etc.

In sum, it must be clear to students that submitting work which you know fully well that it is not your work is a serious academic offence that leads to your institution taking drastic measures against you. Remember in the end you should proudly say, "It (the degree) is mine", and for sure everyone should know that you worked hard for it. Let philosopher Sophocles' words always ring in your mind: "I would prefer to fail with honour, than win by cheating."

Professor Jairos Kangira is the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Namibia. He writes on his own accord.

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