Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cheating and plagiarism at Macedonian universities

The first time I encountered mass cheating at a Macedonian university was in a course I taught on technical writing. Sometime in the third week of classes I decided to give a short quiz. There were about 35 students in the class in a room with about 45 seats. I was warned by colleagues that cheating in the Macedonian educational system from the first grade through the university is endemic, so I decided to give the students a long lecture on cheating and warned them that anyone caught cheating will fail the quiz. At that time the university had no general policy on punishment for cheating.

Cheating has become a culturally acceptable practice in Macedonian schools. If you walk into a very large university classroom with small number of students you will notice that all the students sit grouped tightly together. The purpose, of course, is so that they can help each other. There were several empty seats in my classroom, so I tried to encourage students to spread out a little bit. However, it was still not possible to leave an empty seat between students. As soon as the quiz was distributed students began to whisper with their neighbors. No matter how often I warned them, the whispering would not stop. Eventually I realized that I was going to have to invalidate the quiz, but I decided to let the students complete it anyway just so that I could continue observing how students go about cheating during exams. I noticed in the very first row one female student requesting help from her neighbor. I warned her twice to stop it, but to no avail. As soon as I would turn my head away from them, the cheating would continue. Finally, I decided to stand right in front of her and observe her from no more than two feet away. That did not seem to bother her at all, and she continued cheating through the remainder of the quiz. The practice of cheating was so widespread that I finally decided to reduce the number of quizzes during the semester, and I also requested a proctor to help me monitor the process.

In the same group of students I caught one student during a midterm exam using a cell phone to consult someone from outside of the class. When I reported the infraction to the administration I was informed that my only option was to simply give the student another chance.

Another flagrant instance of cheating took place in a class on English for information technology. There were only about ten students in a classroom with about forty seats, so it was much easier for me to monitor the class. After I collected the completed quizzes we decided to take a short 15-minute break. I went out to get a cup of coffee, and the students stayed in the classroom. As I was returning to the classroom I noticed one student standing by the door, and as soon as he noticed me he yelled something to the students inside the classroom. As I went to my desk I had noticed that during my absence the students had taken out the quizzes from my folder and tried to correct their mistakes. I was in such a shock, I was speechless, I couldn't find the words to express my anger. I dismissed the class and went to discuss the incident with one of my Macedonian colleagues. He was not surprised, but he gave me some advice on how to secure testing materials next time. I was quite surprised by my colleague's replies, because he didn't seem to think there was any need to deal with the students and their misbehavior.

Plagiarism at Macedonian universities is just as endemic as cheating. It takes place in undergraduate as well as in graduate courses. My first exposure to it was in 1997 when I was teaching in Macedonia as a Fulbright scholar. As we were discussing my teaching duties in the department my colleagues suggested that I teach a course on essay writing. Apparently, in final exams students had to write an essay, and that section of the exam had been most difficult for them. When I inquired why it was a problem, I was told that student had very little practice in writing essays. And the reason was because they were rarely assigned to write essays. And the reason why, it was because professors new quite well that most students would probably either plagiarize, or pay someone to write the essay for them. So, why would a professor want to spend hours reading, correcting and grading essays that were most likely not legitimate? Needless to say, the class did not go well for me. After we spent several classes discussing the art of essay writing, I assigned my first essay. Students were required to read the essay in class before they were to turn it in, and that's when it became obvious that most of the students did not author their essays. Some of them could not tell me the meaning of some of the words in the essays, others had not even bothered to read their essay before the class to at least be familiar with the content. My only other option was to require students to write their essays in class. This did not work either because students could not write more than about 3-4 sentences in one hour.

My other exposure to plagiarism took place in a graduate seminar on English literature. A final paper was the only requirement in the course. In discussing the length of the paper, I told them that I was not sure what the standard length of a final paper was at Macedonian universities, so they as a group suggested that 15-20 pages would be appropriate. Initially I was surprised by their suggestion because the paper was supposed to be a research paper, written in a foreign language, and it had to be completed in two weeks. I advised students to send me drafts before they turn in a final version, but none of them did. I received all papers by the deadline. The first thing I noticed was that all the papers were either single spaced, or one and a half space. I simply took it for granted that double spacing is a standard for student papers everywhere. This immediately made me suspicious, because I found it difficult to believe that students could complete long papers in such a short period of time. As soon as started reading each paper I noticed that there weren't any errors in English, which is difficult to believe knowing that the papers were written in a non-native language. A cursory search on Google revealed that every one of them had simply copied entire texts from the internet.

I sent everyone an email telling them that their papers were not acceptable because they had been plagiarized. Some of them refused to admit it until I showed them the locations from where they had copied. What was most surprising was that two of them got into an argument with me, trying to convince me that during their college education they had written many, many papers in the same way and they had never been accused of plagiarism. Apparently, this has become an acceptable practice. I doubt very much that many professors actually spend the time to guide and advise students during the writing process, nor do they bother to read carefully the papers that get turned in.

Writing a good, high quality research paper whether by undergraduate, or graduate students, or by scholars in Macedonia is a real daunting endeavor. University libraries simply don't have the literature necessary to conduct even elementary research. In recent years the internet has provided access to some resources, but students still lack the skills to use these resources in academic research.

Are there practical solutions to the problem of cheating and plagiarism at Macedonian universities? Of course there are, but only if educators start making an effort to eliminate them beginning with the first grade. My personal feeling is that at the moment primary and secondary school teachers, as well as professors at universities don't really want to be bothered with it. Although I'm sure there are policies against cheating and plagiarism at all levels, neither educators nor administrators make much of an effort to enforce them. I'm speaking here from my own personal experience having taught at three different universities in Macedonia over the past 15 years.

An American colleague who had taught at a university in Macedonia related a story to me how he tried to help a Macedonian professor get one of his books translated and published in the USA. The American professor found a US publisher willing to publish the translated text. Before the contract with the publisher was supposed to be signed, the Macedonian professor changed his mind without giving the American professor an explanation. The American professor later found out second hand that the reason the Macedonian professor had changed his mind was because apparently the book had been plagiarized, and he did not want that to become known.

An item in the daily Dnevnik confirms my observation on plagiarism by professors in Macedonia.
Професори крадат докторати (Professors steal dissertations).
Магистерски се купуваат за 20.000 денари


  1. There is only one thing I could say against. The reason for close gathering in the classroom is the instinct of flock, one deeply entrenched among us, Macedonians. One can observe the same phenomenon everywhere: in bus, in restaurant, on street. I think that the flock does not gather in order to cheat. The sheep just takes advantage.

    The rest is... well... well aligned with my own observation. Of course, not everyone in Macedonia cheats.

  2. How long does it takes to check the Paper for Plagiarism (1 month or less then)?

    Thank you!

  3. How long does it takes to Check the Paper for Plagiarism ( 1 month or less)?

    Thank you!

  4. How long does it takes to Check Master Thesis for Plagiarism (1 month or Less)?

    Thank you!