In October of last year, the University Grants Commission (UGC) in India proposed new regulations for the awarding of MPhil/PhD degrees in the country. Among the requirements were that all schools must begin “using well-developed software” to detect plagiarism and other forms of “academic theft” and also provide an electronic copy to the UGC for inclusion in the organization’s Information and Library Network Centre (INFLIBNET), which is open to the public.
In addition to those changes, the UGC also added a requirement that all theses not on language subjects also have at least one copy submitted in English and that research supervisors must also attest to the originality of the work, including that no plagiarism has taken place.
The new regulations, which are required of all universities in the country that award PhDs, took effect this academic year and impacts all who registered for PhD on or after November 30, 2009. However, implementation has been somewhat slow though Universities are starting to implement the policies locally.
For example, Gujarat University in Ahmedabad recently announced their policy, which not only implements the UGC policies, but also threatens to blacklist any guide who has a PhD student that is discovered to have committed plagiarism.
This, according to most experts, is something of a cultural departure for India. Historically, the country has not required English-language submissions and PhD theses were very rarely, if ever, available to other researchers, much less the public.
Kailash Balani is the managing director for iGroup Infotech India, a provider of electronic resources across the region, including plagiarism detection. He says that, while the move was drastic, it was necessary.
“There have been cases of plagiarism and the government was concerned. The idea was to improve writing so that articles sent from India to overseas publishers have more acceptance and improve the quality of PhDs,” Balani said.
India is hoping to curtail and avoid many of the academic plagiarism scandals that have plagued other nations, such as Romania and Hungary. In that effort, according to Balani, iThenticate and Turnitin are essential.
“Both iThenticate and Turnitin will play very important roles as there are no other such effective tools in the market,” Balani stated.
By using this software nationwide, India is working to ensure that only deserving candidates are granted PhDs and that, in turn, raises the value of such a degree from an Indian university. Over 100 Universities and Colleges and nearly 80 K-12 schools are using Turnitin and iThenticate in India.
However, it may be some time before this commitment pays off fully. As we’ve seen in Germany and elsewhere, it can take decades before plagiarism scandals come to the surface. The impact will not be immediate and it will only be through consistent use of the software that it will begin to have the desired effect.
Fortunately, Balani believes that Indian government has both the commitment and interest in expanding the project.
“They (the government) will have to extend this facility to all educational and research institutions. We have recently sold this service (plagiarism detection) to the Defense Research Development Organization and many other research institutions under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research,” Balani said.
In the end, the UGC policy on plagiarism in PhDs was a huge step forward for the nation and, though there will obviously be some roughness in implementing the plan, seeing large universities like Gujarat applying the policy shows that it is taking effect and will soon start helping universities filter out dishonest PhD candidates. That can only mean good things in the long term for the universities and their honest, hard-working PhD candidates.