Amendment seeks to clamp down on students’ use of academic ghostwriters

NO HELPING HANDS::According to a lawmaker, the use of ghostwriters is widespread, although a legal amendment would not be necessary if academic reviews were rigorous

By Rachel Lin and Jake Chung  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Sun, May 26, 2013 - Page 3

The legislature’s Education and Culture Committee has approved a proposed amendment to the Act Governing Awarding of Degrees (學位授予法) under which the provision of ghostwritten academic papers would be subject to fines.

Under current laws, instances of severe plagiarism or forgery in doctoral dissertations and graduate theses may lead to the degree being revoked by the school.

However, the proposed amendment states that those advertising for people to write theses, professional or technical reports, or other articles by proxy — along with the actual person doing the writing — may be fined between NT$200,000 to NT$1 million [US$6,706 to US$33,530], with additional fines possible.

Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲), who proposed the amendment, said that if one types “help wanted writing thesis” into an Internet search engine, many pages of results are returned, proof of how widespread the dissertation-writer-for-hire service is in the nation.

Graduate theses and doctoral dissertations are not the only works plagiarized or ghostwritten, Kuan added, saying that some habilitation dissertations, or articles submitted to the Science Citation Index (SCI) or the Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) journals, have also been found to not entirely be the work of the purported author.

According to Kuan, some hired writers offer services in multiple languages, including English, Japanese, Korean, German and Spanish, adding that there are advertisements openly seeking ghostwriters.

If professors and dissertation review committees were truly dedicated to their profession, it should be a relatively simple task to spot major discrepancies in a doctoral dissertation, Kuan said.

The lawmaker added that legal amendments would be unnecessary if reviews of academic papers were carried out properly.

Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling (蔣偉寧) said that from his experience, student advisers should be aware of what progress their students have made on their theses on a weekly basis, adding that it should be a surprise to them if a student suddenly turned in a completed work.

Meanwhile, a doctoral student surnamed Chen (陳) said the proposed amendment to curb the practice of hiring dissertation writers was commendable as it would reward those students who study hard and write all their own work.

However, Chen said that he is concerned whether the amendment, which is pending second and third readings on the legislative floor before it could be enacted, would truly be able to control the practice and mete out discipline to transgressors.

Even if the amendment becomes law, the government still has to enforce it and put in place other systems to support the law if they want to see a cleaner educational system, Chen said.