Academics stole work

2017-07-30 05:54

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Almost a dozen academics at North-West University (NWU) are under investigation for plagiarising the work of other academics and organisations in their research articles.

City Press has learnt that the 11 academics – some of whom hold professorships and doctorates – were reported to the Council on Higher Education (CHE), an independent statutory quality assurance body.

Most of the academics involved work in the faculty of natural and agricultural sciences and were based at NWU’s Mafikeng and Potchefstroom campuses.

The most senior academic accused in the scandal occupies a senior management position at the Mafikeng campus.

In most cases, the academics had co-authored papers with others allegedly involved.

A whistle-blower close to the student body reported the matter to the CHE and the department of higher education and training.

One of the examples of allegedly plagiarised work is from an employers’ handbook on managing HIV/Aids in the workplace published in 2003 by the Thailand Business Coalition, Employers’ Confederation of Thailand and the International Labour Office.

The handbook states: “Providing workplace care and support helps to ensure that employees with HIV/Aids remain healthy and productive at work.

“In addition, care and support programmes can boost workforce morale by showing that the company is truly concerned about the health and well-being of its employees.”

However, the study co-authored by a senior NWU academic and published in 2013, which is currently under investigation, dealt with “challenges HIV/Aids poses on the nursing workforce in rural health setting in Vhembe district, Limpopo province, South Africa”.

The study states: “Providing workplace care and support helps to ensure that employees with HIV/Aids remain healthy and productive at work.

“Care and support programmes can boost workplace morale by showing that the organisation is truly concerned about the health and well-being of its employees,” reads an exact quotation from the 2003 handbook that was not credited.

Investigation

CHE CEO Professor Narend Baijnath confirmed that the allegations were reported to the council.

“Once they were brought to my attention and duly considered, it was adjudged as being outside our remit,” Baijnath said.

“In the light of the seriousness of the allegations, the CHE referred them to the university on 10 May 2016 for investigation, for it is an internal matter within the autonomy of a higher education institution.

“It is not something that the CHE can investigate itself, for it does not fall within the remit of the CHE’s mandates, but the management and governance structures of the university itself.”

NWU spokesperson Louis Jacobs said the university was informed of the matter by the CHE “upon which an investigation against 11 academic staff members commenced”.

Jacobs said the investigation was at an advanced stage.

He also said the university would not release further particulars on the staff members involved.

He would also not comment on whether any action had been taken against the academics implicated.

“The laying down of any sanction lies with the presiding officer of a hearing, and a sanction will be made based on the surrounding facts and circumstances as well as the degree of plagiarism,” he said.

“One can thus not speculate on what the sanction would be. It must, however, be emphasised that plagiarism is considered a very serious offence and is handled accordingly.”

Higher education department spokesperson Madikwe Mabotha said the matter had not yet been formally brought to the attention of the department and referred questions to the university.

The department of higher education and training allocates a R120 000 subsidy to universities for each publication of research work in journals, books and published conference proceedings, making the publication of scholarly articles in accredited academic journals a large source of income for universities.

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