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Condoning the plagiarists

Sep 8: Nothing seems to have convinced the Punjab University that it needs to take strict action against its teachers found guilty of plagiarism, not even the prospect of losing a stable source of funding. On Wednesday, the university announced its annual budget of Rs2.83bn without taking into account the fact that it will not get any funds from the Higher Education Commission unless it takes stern action against the plagiarists. Since the allegations of plagiarism first surfaced in April 2006 against five teachers of the university's Centre for High Energy Physics, the commission has been demanding disciplinary action against the plagiarists because they had damaged the educational and scientific environment in the country as well as Pakistan's image abroad. As a measure to get things done as it had desired, the commission last year withheld Rs104m earmarked for the Punjab University. No matter how desperately drastic the step looked, it failed to convince the university authorities that the issue was too serious to let it pass.

Ignoring the message that this withholding was intended to convey, the university remains adamant and believes that the commission will still be willing to finance 31 per cent of its budget for 2007-08. Even if denied the sum - as is expected because of the commission's zero-tolerance policy towards plagiarism - the university does not seem to care less. It claims that it has other means of overcoming the shortfall, one of them being a Rs500m promised grant from the Punjab government. There is no grudging the university's ability to raise the money it needs for its annual budget but this should not become an excuse for letting the plagiarists off the hook, not the least because it will set a bad precedent for other institutions of higher learning. In fact, the university had acknowledged in a meeting of its syndicate held in April that any decision taken against the plagiarists "would serve as a landmark case relating to ethical writing practices and research". But then the syndicate ended up handing down very mild punishments. Given the autonomy the Punjab University enjoys in running its affairs, there is little that the commission can do on the issue other than a refusal to provide funds. Unless the university realises the gravity of the problem, efforts to eradicate plagiarism will not go far enough. Dawn

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