Plagiarism is worldwide

PAUL Mathews's article, "A system tailor-made for cheats" (HES, September 5) has done a serious injustice to the intellectual integrity of thousands of Asian students whose countries of origin happen to be those named in his article.

As someone possessing an undergraduate degree from Taiwan, and having obtained postgraduate degrees in Australia and in the UK as well as lecturing for several years in an Australian university, I believe Mathews's linkage of Asian culture with the cheating behaviour of plagiarism demonstrates how ill-informed he is in discussing this matter.

Plagiarism is a universal problem that confronts universities worldwide. It not only happens in Taiwan and in Australia but is prevalent in the US, the UK and other parts of the world. My lecturing experience confirms that plagiarism is practised by students from all cultures, not just Asians.

A very good question asked by Mathews is why cases being reported in Australia involving plagiarism are of overseas students and why they are almost always Asians. My observation is that it simply shows how the commercialisation of Australian universities has damaged the country's higher education.

While the chiefs of Australian universities are keen to do their overseas rounds, hand-shaking and banqueting with their Asian counterparts in the hope of signing memorandums of understanding and recruiting more Asian students to make up shortfalls in their university's income, university lecturers back in Australia are inundated by overseas students who possess different learning styles and expectations of what constitutes learning.

Academics who are not adequately trained to cope with these students are not only frustrated in dealing with the mountains of paperwork imposed by administrators but are also confronted by equally frustrated students who hold different expectations as to the role of a teacher.

Plagiarism is an educational issue, not a mere cultural matter. Students from all cultures will and do exploit a system that exploits them. What is being compromised here is the integrity of education, something that is valued by all cultures.

While Mathews is fortunate to have enjoyed the position of being perceived as a venerated professor held in high respect, to a degree that many Australian educators can only envy, what is remarkable to me is that to dramatise the significance of his teaching strategies employed in his classroom, he casually throws in a statement about his Taiwanese students, saying that "this was probably the first time they had really been asked for their opinion".

This highlights his underlying values of what he believes to be a superior mode of learning. One needs to be reminded that what constitutes a superior mode of learning in human society continues to be a subject of debate. The attitude of Mathews in belittling, and being condescending towards his students and an education system and philosophy that he has little knowledge of, or no interest in exploring, is truly astonishing.

The Australian

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