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Hidden costs of academic dishonesty: The case of Indonesia

Fulcrum - May 13, 2024

Yanuar Nugroho and Burhanuddin Muhtadi – Indonesian academia, particularly that of Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), is again under the spotlight and scrutiny. Two recent cases embarrassed the country.

First, Kumba Digdowiseiso, Dean of the Economics and Business Faculty at Universitas Nasional, had added to his own publications the names of dozens of 'co-authors' from universities in Malaysia without their knowledge. In 2024 alone, he had supposedly written and published 160 papers, some of which are alleged to be plagiarised.

Next, some lecturers at PLN Jakarta Institute of Technology reportedly copied and pasted an article on state capitalism by Ilias Alami, a Cambridge professor, into ChatGPT and 'published' it. Ilias reported the plagiarism on his X account.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Such academic misconduct, the authors believe, is massive and widespread. It is not just a problem of any individual's integrity but of systemic failure in Indonesia's education system.

Academic dishonesty – committed in this case by professors and academics, not just their students – represents a significant challenge within HEI systems. Such graft erodes the foundation on which the true acquisition and dissemination of knowledge stands. This not only undermines the integrity of HEIs but also has far-reaching implications for Indonesia's human development. It emasculates the integrity and comprises the quality of knowledge production.

The authors argue that countries with high rates of academic dishonesty may experience stagnation in innovation because true innovation requires a deep, multidisciplinary understanding which cannot be achieved through superficial learning or worse, outright plagiarism. Indonesia is ranked second in the world for academic dishonesty, after Kazakhstan.

Why does this matter?

For one, investors often seek stable and reliable markets for investment. A country's lack of academic (and other) integrity could be a signal to defer or delay investment, which in turn affects the country's economic growth and development prospects. That even professors and deans are academically dishonest deepens external observers' and investors' mistrust in Indonesians' professional or academic qualifications and the quality of institutions.

What factors contribute to academic dishonesty? From the authors' firsthand experience in Indonesian HEIs, the twofold factors of pressure and fear are the greatest contributors. Academics everywhere face immense pressure to publish, which can lead to academic dishonesty across all ranks. Universities also care about raising their rankings in international league tables; one clear way is through the volume and quality of their faculties' academic publications.

First, the pressures stem from personal and organisational perceptions of the system's demands on academics. In Indonesia, this is tied to the Tri-dharma perguruan tinggi ("Three missions of HEIs") principle, where academics are expected to teach, research (including publication), and participate in community development. Coupling one's career advancement with the pressure to publish, with the lack of governance in academic culture and unnecessary requirements such as mandatory publications for even bachelor's, master's and doctoral students as a graduation requirement, provides the context for possible abuse. Individuals are tempted to take shortcuts leading to misconduct. These include using predatory journal publishing services, plagiarism, and paper mills (that is, paying for authorship in pieces written by others).

Over a decade ago, Indonesia's Minister for Administrative Reform issued Regulation No. 17 of 2013. This regulation requires lecturers who aspire to be professors to publish in Scopus-indexed journals. (Editor's note: Scopus is one of several major citation databases; not all academics agree that such rankings matter.) However, if they want to continue receiving professorial allowances, another Regulation No. 20 of 2017 requires every professor and head lector (equivalent to Senior Lecturer) to publish at least three scientific works in international or national journals within a three-year period. Partly due to this, many Indonesian campuses set a goal for each faculty member to publish a certain number of articles in international journals indexed by Scopus and another database, Web of Science. The university leadership then demands that lecturers publish multiple articles annually, which staff may gladly do, but this expectation creates undue pressure. It is not as straightforward as saying that simply mandating publication leads to academic dishonesty, but the authors argue it could force some to engage in dishonest practices to reach such targets.

Second, the opportunity to engage in dishonest behaviour increases when the perceived risk of detection is low. Lenient supervisors or mentors for junior academics and inadequate deterrence for cheaters create environments conducive to plagiarism. For one, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Research and Technology did not implement systematic improvements when introducing the policy that raised the ratio of professors to 20 per cent of the total number of lecturers in each university faculty. Thus, there are too few reviewers available for prospective professors' publications. Worse, some reviewers lack the necessary expertise and time to verify the authenticity of their juniors' publications.

The advancement of digital technology also provides more opportunities for dishonesty, as it is easier for dishonest academics to access published articles and plagiarise them. Academics may rationalise their actions by believing or saying that 'everyone else is doing it' or even by attributing their plagiarism to inadequate supervision or an unfair promotion system. The authors know of several reviewers recommending candidates for professorial promotions based on their personal connections, for instance.

As for solutions, first, education policy reform is needed. Clear and objective incentives and disincentives for Indonesian academics' career progression must be elucidated. The Indonesian government has offered numerous incentives for writing and publishing in journals, such as campuses offering cash bonuses to those who can publish articles in the best journals. However, the disincentives for plagiarism and other misconduct are less noticeable. Strict and severe punishment is required to deter perpetrators. The authors suggest revoking any plagiariser's professorship or lecturer status or even firing them when they are proven to have plagiarised.

Eliminating predatory journals, which are fraudulent or deceptive publications exploiting academics by charging publication fees while pushing out work without proper editorial and peer review vital to the academic rigour expected of true scholarly journals, is a must. The authors suggest Indonesia revoke the nonsensical obligation for students to publish in journals before graduating and establish clear sanctions for academics who publish in predatory journals. The government can also ban paper mills by promptly removing advertisements for the sale of scholarly articles widely shared on social media platforms such as Instagram and Telegram.

Second, clear policies promoting academic integrity must be set at Indonesia's universities. Establishing policies that delineate what is allowed and prohibited practice in academic writing is crucial, as is outlining author responsibilities and the consequences of dishonesty. Diverse assessment methods for professors' promotions can reduce opportunities for cheating in journal submissions or elsewhere. Incorporating Indonesia's well-established scientific associations into the promotion review process for professors might address the issue of insufficient reviewers and lack of expertise. In addition, intervention is crucial: universities should focus on teaching students about basic research ethics and honesty, warning against plagiarism, and enforcing proper citation practices. World-class universities in the UK, the US, and Singapore have systems in place to ensure academic integrity – which Indonesia can study and adapt. Reliable software to detect and alert reviewers/readers about plagiarism is already available, alongside traditional methods like career development review and supervision.

In the long run, academic dishonesty is insidious and erodes Indonesia's bedrock of education, societal advancement, and economic development. The resolution must extend beyond mere policy enforcement or the integration of advanced technology into academic practice. The essence of addressing it lies in cultural and normative transformation – inculcating in Indonesia's academics and university students a reverence for academic authenticity and a staunch commitment to integrity. This is the only way to enhance the quality of Indonesian HEIs to fortify the foundation for nurturing an ethically sound society that can navigate and excel in a complex, globalised world. Otherwise, our vision for a Golden Indonesia in 2045 will remain a dream – and never be realised.

[Yanuar Nugroho is a Visiting Senior Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute. He was the former Deputy Chief of Staff to the President of Indonesia 2015-2019. Burhanuddin Muhtadi is a Visiting Senior Fellow in the Indonesia Studies Programme, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, and Senior Lecturer at Islamic State University (UIN) Syarif Hidayatullah.]

Source: https://fulcrum.sg/hidden-costs-of-academic-dishonesty-learning-from-indonesia