The thesis plagiarism accusations surrounding Kaohsiung City Councilor Jane Lee (李眉蓁), the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) candidate in the Kaohsiung mayoral by-election, has piqued the public’s curiosity, and the number of thesis searches has surged sharply. Some even joke that Lee should be credited for spurring a wave of academic discussion.
The controversy has even extended to the “ghostwriting market.” Hiring someone to write a thesis is like hiring someone to take the Joint College Entrance Examination: Such misconduct must be condemned. Unfortunately, the Ministry of Education has long dealt with the problem passively.
In 2013, the legislature amended the Degree Conferral Act (學位授予法) to crack down on ghostwriting, by sharply increasing the fines for academic ghostwriting and advertising academic ghostwriting services.
However, as Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Kuan Bi-ling (管碧玲) has shown, the ministry has only caught three ghostwriters in the seven years since — one in the first year and two this year.
According to Ministry of the Interior data, more than 3 million Taiwanese have a university degree, and more than 1.3 million have a master’s degree or higher. Among those under the age of 64, 45 percent are junior college or university graduates, which is much higher than in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development member states, where the average is 33 percent.
With the large number of university graduates, it would be great if the nation could shine on the international stage. Surprisingly, in UK-based Quacquarelli Symonds’ 2021 QS World University Rankings, National Taiwan University is the only Taiwanese school, ranking 66th among the world’s top 100 universities, lagging behind China’s Tsinghua University, Peking University and Fudan University at No. 15, 23 and 34 respectively.
A university should be a place where students seek knowledge, truth and pleasure, but in Taiwan, this is wishful thinking. Academics and students are seeking higher positions, fame and fortune, and their academic papers and diplomas are nothing but tools to reach those goals.
Without a master’s degree or higher, it is difficult to find a good job after graduation, and those with a higher degree often get promoted faster than those without.
As a result, many people work hard to obtain at least a master’s degree, and the many university professors who serve concurrently as thesis or dissertation advisers happily profit from providing guidance to more graduate students.
Lee’s thesis adviser, for example, reportedly guides an average of 10 graduate students per year, a figure almost beyond comprehension. I am exhausted from guiding three graduate students yearly and would barely be able to concentrate on teaching if I were guiding 10.
Universities can now conduct plagiarism checks through originality comparison systems, but as the saying goes: “When virtue rises one foot, evil rises 10.” Services that help students avoid originality checks are already available, and rewriters can easily dodge plagiarism detection by using synonyms or inverted sentences in a paper.
As people see education and diplomas as a means to an end, many stop at nothing to get a higher degree. Given this situation, it would be difficult to root out academic plagiarism. No wonder some say that closing half of all Taiwan’s universities would only solve half the problems with Taiwan’s higher education.
Lu Ching-fu is a professor in Fu Jen Catholic University’s applied arts department.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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