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China's Universities Struggle With Academic Plagiarism

China has invested billions of dollars in recent years to create world-class universities, but there are fears the effort is being undermined by a series of high-profile academic scandals.

When Shanghai Jiaotong University professor Chen Jin said he had developed a new type of microchip, he was celebrated as a national hero.

But last month the party turned sour after it was discovered many of Chen's findings had been made up. Removed from his job, he joined a growing list of Chinese academics guilty of fabricating or plagiarizing research.

In April, a department dean at Tongji University was demoted for falsifying his resume. Just one month before, the assistant dean of prestigious Tsinghua University medical school was dismissed after taking credit for someone else's research paper.

The news provoked outrage among both academics, and government officials, who hope to see China become a leader in scientific research and development. The head of China's Academy of Sciences has called plagiarism a disease that needs to be cured through "checks and balances" and "education in ethics."

Fang Shimin exposed the Liu Hui scandal on his Internet site, one of more than 500 such cases he has investigated. He says plagiarism is rampant, but not enough is being done to stop it.

He says China has never taken plagiarism very seriously. Even though academics have been talking about following international standards when it comes to practice, problems still exist.

And even when acclaimed academics are implicated, says Fang, many institutions still turn a blind eye rather than lose a high-profile researcher who can draw in funding from companies.

The example set by academics appears to trickle down and contribute to rampant cheating among students.

One former language student says her classmates often translated passages from English textbooks and handed it in as their own work.

"They copy because it is convenient and because it is schoolwork, they feel they do not need to take it seriously," she said.

Responding to such concerns, Chinese secondary schools this week took stern action against potential cheats during the annual university entrance examinations. Students had their bags searched for mobile phones and cheat sheets, and police officers were posted outside exam rooms, to keep people from sneaking help to students inside.