Assoc Prof Dr Yarina Ahmad
On June 29, former international trade and industry minister Tan Sri Rafidah Aziz claimed that lecturers sometimes stole the work of post-graduate students and forced them to co-author a paper with the lecturers.
Subsequently, Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) issued a statement that action would be taken against academicians who condoned such acts, and that academic integrity had always been upheld by the lecturers. Furthermore, academic integrity should always be a university’s priority.
Academicians breed academicians.
Academicians were once research students, too, and they were supervised by senior academicians or their lecturers or professors.
In other words, if the academicians were taught noble values they would automatically practise them and pass them down to the students.
Indeed there are a number of academic integrity issues that can occur when doing research papers or completing a thesis, such as spending too much from the research fund and research supervision problems among colleagues, seniors and their superiors.
One should understand that there is a continuum of high to low of academic integrity. Ideally, those with low to no academic integrity should never be an academician!
Logically and rationally, academicians should uphold and practise academic integrity in all aspects. It must be pointed out that most academicians are of high integrity, only a small number lack it. But no matter how small the number, such a lack of integrity can damage a university’s image.
Debates among academicians on the integrity issue put the blame on the Education Ministry, Malaysia Research Assessment and university rankings. Some claim that universities are driven by the results of such assessments that they forgo integrity, while others said universities were pressured to better their rankings to meet key performance indicators (KPI) set by the ministry.
Achievable KPIs, with clear directions and strategies, produce quality institutions and foster competitiveness in Malaysia’s higher education industry. The point is, academicians must have academic integrity. If they don’t practise such noble values, it means they lack integrity.
The individual factor is the main reason why academicians neglect integrity. In some cases, research and supervision opportunities are used with the wrong intentions, either for faster promotion or academic popularity.
Additionally, situational factors such as academic culture, university’s process and procedures, rules and regulations, also determine an academician’s integrity.
The case of “fake qualification”, for instance, is a serious academic integrity issue, which involves students, the university, and employer. Action must be taken against all three for overlooking “the qualification”.
Of late, there have been research supervision issues raised by students on social media. The concerns include biased, lengthy and unnecessary discussions. This leads to the “blame syndrome” which is not good for the university’s image. This also is a case of academic integrity. And if this is not addressed, the credibility of the university is at stake.
Therefore, all parties must play a role. The ministry should strengthen the policy related to academic integrity, universities should have guidelines that promote academic integrity (such as the code of conduct for research and publishing), and implement and enforce the rules and regulations.
Both academicians and students are also encouraged to lodge reports with the authorities (a university’s administration or the ministry) on academic integrity issues if they encounter any.
All universities aspire to be exemplars of higher education institutions.
UiTM, for example, is in the process of transformation. To address academic integrity issues, the university has upgraded its talent management process, from recruitment and hiring to training, coaching and mentoring, promotion, and career development.
Concurrently, the aspect of research integrity is also one of the main agendas in UiTM’s 2020-2025 transformation.
Dr Yarina Ahmad is Head of Strategic Planning at Centre for Strategic Planning and Information, Universiti Teknologi Mara & member of Malaysian Society for Higher Education Policy and Research Development; Dr Mohd Nazip Suratman is UiTM deputy vice-chancellor (Research and Innovation).
Pubshied in: The New Straits TImes, Friday, 19 July 2019