Column piece

Why academic cheating happens a lot in China?

There are a lot of things with Chinese characteristics, such as Socialism with Chinese characteristics, and academic cheating with Chinese characteristics.

Recently, BioMed Central, who publishes 277 peer-reviewed open access journals, has pulled 43 papers published across journals it operates involved in peer review and citation scandal. Although Jigisha Patel, associate editorial director for research integrity, said it was not a China problem and they got a lot of robust research of China, it is not an accidental issue that arise attention worldwide.

In 2009, the international journal Crystallography found that 70 papers it published were fraudulent. Those papers from researchers from Jinggangshan University in China. In 2014, a computer scientist John Rabe, from Joseph Fourier University in France, found that during the period of 2008 to 2013, 16 papers produced by a dissertation generated software had been published by German publisher Springer and more than 100 by American Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Journal. Most of them are from Chinese academic institutions.

Why academic cheating happens a lot in China?

One important cause is the unreasonable professional evaluation system, which is full of Chinese characteristics. A professional title can help to get promotion, more salary and bonus, and large amount of research fund. And the thesis is the essential standard to achieve the professional title. What the evaluation system care are how many papers has the researcher published and how many of them are published on core journals.

Doctors’ medical skills and ethics have been ignored by the system, as well as the number of patients they have cured. The quality of teaching does not help when a lecturer wants to get promoted to a professor. Such an unreasonable evaluation provides a breeding ground for fraud papers.

A doctor I know has complained that he is always busy seeing patients and having operations. He said: “I do want to earn more money, but I really don’t have time to write those ridiculous papers! Well, if I am brave enough, I might also take a risk to produce some. ”

My tutor Professor Zhu has also shown her dissatisfaction towards the system. She faces troubles and confusions when she has interesting research projects. She said: “It takes me a lot of time to make effort to get research fund, but this also means I can’t spend much time with students as usual.” Some teachers in universities choose to focus on their researches and ignore teaching, some might pay more attention to the administrative work and casually produce papers when they need them to pass the professional evaluation.

Another important cause is the unsound Socialist Legal System with Chinese Characteristics. This is a social problem not just in academic field.

Although China’s economy has gained some achievement in recent year, the development of legal systems does not catch up with the pace of modernization construction. Apart from the imperfect laws and regulations, even the constraint effect of written laws is far away from expectation because of weak supervision and punishment.

I get a feeling that most influential Chinese academic cheating affairs in recent years are exposed by foreign academic institutions. The administration of Chinese universities is related to the government. Under this condition, once a fraud paper is found, the author or the university may use money and contact network to conceal the crime. Even when a cheating affair is exposed, it would not affect the scholar’s social credit a lot, unless media report it and draw the attention from the whole society. Those people can still easily earn a living after paying the fine and resigning from their positions.

Both the professional evaluation system and the legal system are the external environment to be blame. There is no doubt that personal moral standing and quality would also be the reasons. And the concept of plagiarism and the importance of originality have not got enough attention in university education in China. Professor Zhu has to check some suspicious sentences online by herself when supervising graduates’ essays. She complained to me that the university doesn’t have a system to check plagiarism automatically.

Academic cheating is not exclusive in China. But for Chinese academic field, it is an inevitable and outstanding problem. Although cheaters are just a few, but this seriously causes damages to Chinese academic world. Chinese academic and technological field is struggling to catch up with the advanced level to win recognition and reputation worldwide. To achieve it, the most important thing is integrity and the quality and quantity of research findings come next. Therefore, reformations of professional evaluation system, legal system and higher education are urgently in need. Professional title should be evaluated by specific standard according to the professional characteristics. The rule of law should be fully implemented by strengthening supervision and punishment. And universities should take the responsibilities to foster future researchers of integrity.

Academic cheating with Chinese characteristics is not a well-recognized concept. But if this immoral and illegal behavior can’t be contained, there will be more and more negative attitudes towards Chinese characteristics.

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