News / Asia

Plagiarism Imperiling South Korea's Academic Reputation

SEOUL -  The South Korean education system has won global praise. U.S. President Barack Obama has held it up as an example, saying America should emulate some aspects of it. But, in South Korea some of the top universities are facing criticism for numerous high-profile cases of plagiarism. And, some insiders acknowledge such cheating is well entrenched.

At one of South Korea's premier educational institutions, Seoul National University, two professors are being accused of fabricating stem cell research in papers submitted to international journals.

It echoes a case at the same school in 2005 when a high-profile professor, Hwang Woo-suk, faced global condemnation for manipulating cloning experiments.

In recent months, two lawmakers also faced allegations of copying work for their doctoral dissertations. In past years, a president of a highly-regarded university and an education minister also lost their jobs when it was revealed they had also fabricated academic work.

A graduate student at Korea University, who only wants to be identified by his surname Kim, says he noticed when he was enrolled in secondary schools and colleges in the United States the concept of plagiarism was pretty well established.

“In Korea that history may not be as long. So there still isn’t a huge consensus, in general, amongst all Koreans as to what plagiarism actually means," he said. "What’s the extent of plagiarism and whether plagiarism itself is acceptable or not?”

At the Seoul National University of Education, ethics education professor Lee In-jae says all of the high-profile incidents demonstrate even top South Korean officials are insensitive to plagiarism.

The professor says such revelations cause reputations to instantly collapse. And, if South Korea's academic society ever wants to reach a world-class level then it must rid itself of such ethical problems.

When education minister, Lee Ju-ho, was asked the how seriously he takes the problem he replied it is not as bad as it used to be.

Lee says these incidents became prominent seven or eight years ago, but the problem has mainly disappeared since then because of increased awareness and training. But he says he wants to put more effort into eradicating plagiarism.

Korea University student Kim says the scant efforts being made to educate college students about the matter are actually not very effective.

“Korean universities usually have at least one class or some kind of seminar in the beginning of the semester to talk about plagiarism. But as far as I know it is also quite optional," Kim stated. "So there are a lot of people who just don’t go to the seminar.”

Professor Lee at the Seoul National University of Education  says educating students to understand it is unethical to make even seemingly minor mistakes, such as not citing references, needs to be taught in elementary schools.

The ethics educators say, if young students learn it is wrong to copy their classmates homework, then they will be able to do honest term papers when they reach university or proper research if they become professionals.

Students such as Kim have noticed that professors from the United Kingdom and the United States on his campus are having a positive effect.

“One professor in my grad school found a student plagiarizing and automatically gave that student a zero," said Kim. "And I am hearing more of those [incidents] these days.”

But so many students still appear to have no hesitation about ethical shortcuts that a lucrative online industry has been created to cater to them. Brokers match graduate students with those willing to ghostwrite. A master's thesis can be custom authored for as little as $1,400 while dissertations for a PhD are being offered from about $2,700.

A JoongAng newspaper report quotes a broker saying their main customers are businessmen and office workers lacking time to do academic research, but in a hurry to obtain advanced degrees to give them an advantage over their peers in South Korea's highly competitive society.

Additional reporting by Youmi Kim.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More