A drive to legislate against research misconduct and student cheating across Europe is under way, with the Balkans in the lead. In March, tiny Montenegro (pop.629,355) became one of the first countries to pass stringent legislation outlawing not only plagiarism, but also the donation of authorship, the fabrication of research results and a variety of ways to cheat in exams. The law is in part the fruit of the Ethics, Transparency and Integrity in Education initiative of the Council of Europe, a human rights body that includes almost every country on the continent.
Dennis Farrington, a visiting fellow at the Oxford Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies, who has worked as a consultant for the Council of Europe for the past 25 years, says other countries are likely to consider adopting similar rules. “There’s pressure coming from all over the place for some new legal structures (to tackle academic misconduct), and Montenegro is in the lead,” says Farrington.
According to Farrington, the Balkans is the birthplace of the fresh move against academic misconduct because the wars of the 1990s cut off universities from the outside world and an “incestuous” culture of academics signing off each other’s work developed. In Montenegro, which has one public and two private universities, academic misconduct is a “well-known phenomenon” and was regarded as a relatively inconsequential offence. However, after 2000 a new generation of educated youth has emerged with a different mindset.
But Montenegro hasn’t made its plagiarism law retrospective, meaning only misconduct in new publications will fall under its remit. “This was a huge can of worms that they decided they didn’t want to open,” says Farrington.
Outside the Western Balkans, Farrington has also helped the Armenian government to draft a law tackling plagiarism, fake universities and “academic integrity in its widest extent”. In return for state funding, universities have had to sign a code of conduct. Kosovo has drafted a similar law, with universities having to make progress reports to the government.
Also involved is the International Institute for Research and Action on Academic Fraud and Plagiarism, promoted in 2016 and affiliated with the University of Geneva, which has coached University of Montenegro staff to better understand plagiarism, says Michelle Bergadaa, the institute’s chair. Independent assessors have been flown in to speak to students, researchers and managers to check on progress, she says.
But it is “foolish” to think academic misconduct can be tackled by the “autocratic formula” of new regulations, warns Prof. Bergadaa. “The law always follows changes in society”, not the other way around, she says. It’s “unclear” if Montenegro’s new law will solve integrity issues, she cautions.
(Excerpted and adapted from The Economist and Times Higher Education)