The path to an award-winning antiplagiarism system for higher education institutions
by Julius Kravjar (email@example.com), Project Manager, Slovak Centre of Scientific and Technical Information (SCSTI),1 creators of ANTIPLAG, winner of the 2013 European Prize for Innovation in Public Administration granted by the European Commission
Plagiarism is an unfortunate phenomenon in the educational system at all levels that existed in the past, exists today and will exist in the future. Slovakia with its population of 5.4 million, like other countries, has been particularly confronted with theses and dissertation plagiarism. The rapid increase in the number of students of higher education institutions (HEIs), non-corresponding growth in the number of teachers, the penetration growth of information and communication technologies and internet penetration growth after 1992, together with a low level of copyright and intellectual property rights awareness contributed to the spread of plagiarism at HEIs in Slovakia. In 1992, there were 66,000 students and 8,000 teachers (8 students per teacher). The maximum number of students was reached in 2008 and 2009 (230,000); the maximum ratio of students per teacher was reached in 2007 and 2008 (almost 23). In the following graph, the year 1992 is the base for students and teachers; the right-hand axis shows internet penetration. (Click on any image to enlarge).
Graph 1: HEIs’ growth characteristics
In 2001, only one HEI in Slovakia started to use an electronic system to detect plagiarism. The next two HEIs started to use a plagiarism detection system in 2008, comprising just 9% of all Slovak HEIs.
The first signs of activities towards electronic collections of theses and dissertations in Slovakia were recorded on the threshold of the Millennium. March 2004 was to become a significant milestone: sixteen academic libraries of twelve Slovak universities decided to solve the project “Building Digital Academic Libraries - Collecting and Providing Access to Full Texts of Slovak University Publications”. This project marked the beginnings of cooperation on a national level in this area, with an effort to follow up at an international level. Unfortunately, the project was not sufficiently implemented at the national level due to the lack of financial and personnel resources, but mainly because of the lack of legislative support. It has taught Slovakia a “lesson”.
Plagiarism was a recurring discussion topic in the Slovakian academic community, but without any significant progress for a long time. In September 2006, the Slovak Rector’s Conference (SRC) approved two documents related to academic ethics. One of them concerned students, “Measures to Reduce Ethical Violations of Standards for Preparation and Presentation of the Bachelor's, Master's and Dissertation Theses” and the other concerned the teaching staff, “Code of Ethics for Higher Education Institutions Employees”. These documents dealing with ethics of teachers and students were of national importance. But the proposed measures to eliminate plagiarism had an insignificant impact. Therefore, in February 2008, SRC revisited the issue of plagiarism and asked the Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Sport (MinEdu) to coordinate the activities, especially those related to the acquisition of the plagiarism detection system.
Strategic decision and its implementation
MinEdu made a strategic decision in 2008: systematic measures will be prepared and implemented on a national level covering the collection, processing and originality checks of the specified HEI theses to inhibit the spread of plagiarism. The Slovak Centre of Scientific and Technical Information (SCSTI) was charged by MinEdu with the formidable challenge to transform the decision into a system of everyday use. SCSTI is the successor of the first public scientific library in Slovakia which was originally established in 1938, and was often referred to as the Slovak Technical Library in the past. Its original mission is greatly enhanced: “building and operation of complex information systems developed for research and development” in the support and promotion of science, research, development and education.
So it was here that the implementation concept of the nationwide ANTIPLAG system was born and developed, with the participation of experts from other institutions.
The basic strategic goal was defined and it was necessary to develop a strategy to achieve it. One of the major factors that contributed to the success in achieving the strategic objective was finding support in the Parliament. The amendment to the Higher Education Act approved in 2009 enacted the duty for HEIs to send five types of theses for collection in the nationwide repository before their defense (bachelor’s, master’s, dissertation, rigorous2 and habilitation3 theses) in order to be checked for originality after their registration by the plagiarism detection system. (The name ANTIPLAG is now used for the central repository of theses and dissertations and the plagiarism detection system). The output of the system is the originality protocol.
SCSTI has defined the requirements for the nationwide ANTIPLAG system, prepared and performed its acquisition, operation planning, launch, administration, its everyday operation and future development. The ANTIPLAG system is based on a national uniform methodology for the collection of theses and dissertations and their originality checks. This approach was selected in order to implement a solution that will be a barrier for thriving plagiarism at all Slovak HEIs – public, private and state – as soon as possible. Secondly, the solution aims to raise awareness of plagiarism, copyright and intellectual property rights.
MinEdu’s decision was made in the first half of 2008 and the real operation of ANTIPLAG started in April 2010. In 2001, only one HEI in Slovakia started to use an electronic system to detect plagiarism. The next two HEIs started to use a plagiarism detection system in 2008. It was a small percentage of all Slovak HEIs: 9% in 2008. The relevant change happened in 2010, when all Slovak HEIs were required to use the ANTIPLAG system. That is to say, all Slovak HEIs are obligated to contribute to the central repository of theses and dissertations and all theses and dissertations are checked for originality by the same plagiarism detection system. The use of plagiarism detection systems has had a longer tradition in many countries but the Slovak approach is innovative and unique in Europe and very likely in the world.
A change in the system was introduced by another amendment to the Higher Education Act, which imposed on the operator an obligation to make theses stored in the central repository available to the public; papers registered after 31 August 2011 are made available at one website. Theses and dissertations are archived for 70 years.
Copyright is protected and it has no negative impact on the future opportunities to publish theses/dissertations or derived papers. Authors have the right to disallow or to delay central repository publishing. To be more precise:
- The author has the right to postpone the publication of the thesis by the central repository by 12 months (without giving a reason);
- The Dean or Rector has the right, based on the author's justified request to postpone the publication of the thesis by the central repository by 24 months. (Author + Dean/Rector = maximum 36 months);
- The thesis or its part was published (printed) before it was sent to the central repository: the central repository will publish only its unpublished part;
- The thesis or its part was published (printed) after it was sent to the central repository: the author has the right to require that the publishing of the thesis or its part be stopped by the central repository;
- If the thesis was published by the central repository but "the thesis affected improperly the rights and legitimate interests of a third party, especially if intellectual property rights of a third party were infringed, or improper handling of classified facts or personal data, confidential information or trade secrets of a third party was identified" then the author or MinEdu can require that the publishing by the central repository be stopped.
The author of the thesis decides if the thesis can be downloadable as a PDF file or he/she can require that the thesis cannot be downloadable and it can be visible only in the picture format.
The impact of ANTIPLAG
The impact of ANTIPLAG on academic community has been significant and it has also affected the general public. According to statements of HEI officials in the media, the mere publication of the information that operation of such system is being prepared had a positive, preventive effect. Students and teachers realised that their papers will be under permanent supervision of the plagiarism detection system and they began to approach the creation of papers and work with literature more seriously. Reactions to the implementation of the ANTIPLAG system in the media agree that it contributed to increased responsibility of students and teachers, greater student autonomy in the creation of papers, improvement in the quality of papers, and a higher level of citations.
The number of texts containing the word plagiátorstvo (plagiarism) was very low on the Slovak internet and in the Slovak media until 2007 (Graph 2). This was a reflection of the situation of the whole society – the issue of plagiarism, copyright and intellectual property rights was not given sufficient attention. Significant changes started in 2008, when the number of texts on plagiarism increased significantly, and the issue of plagiarism became a public matter. The term plagiátorstvo is no longer hidden in Slovak internet and Slovak media; we are more open to the issue of plagiarism, its presence is openly admitted and there is much more written and spoken word on the topic.
Graph 2: Number of texts on the Slovak internet and in the Slovak media
The interest in the search for the word plagiátorstvo (plagiarism) culminates in spring every year, which is the main period for the submission of theses and dissertations (Graph 3). In the period before 2010, there was limited interest.
Graph 3: Relative number of searches (Google Trends)
The increased availability of information about plagiarism on the internet and media coverage, combined with higher interest in searching plagiarism on the internet – that all is the contribution of the efforts that led to the nationwide implementation of ANTIPLAG.4
The international research project “Impact of Policies for Plagiarism in Higher Education Across Europe” (IPPHEAE, EU funded, 2010-2013) carried out a survey in the EU and country reports were prepared for 27 countries (http://ippheae.eu/project-results). The report “Plagiarism Policies in Slovakia,” says:
* “There were some notable differences between the Slovak surveys and the EU average. Almost all Slovak students (99%!) become aware of plagiarism before or during their bachelor studies. The EU average shows that 20% of students become aware of plagiarism during their masters/PhD degree or are still not sure about it.”
* " ... Slovak students are the most aware of plagiarism among all EU countries."
* "The most outstanding example of good practice is definitely the existence of national repository of theses. As it is run centrally and universities are obliged to upload their theses, students from all institutions have theoretically the same conditions. The other aspect is that the software tool provides just a protocol for matching with other sources. The decision about whether a given case is plagiarism or not lies with teachers and/or the examination committee and these may not always follow the same procedures."
* "Compared to other countries, Slovakia should be praised for its achievements. And it already was: The European Commission has awarded the Slovak Centre of Scientific and Technical Information the European Prize for Innovation in Public Administration."
* "The responses from Slovak students demonstrated the highest level of understanding about plagiarism within the whole Europe. Their unwillingness (in comparison with other countries) to receive more training on plagiarism is therefore understandable. The research team of the IPPHEAE project would also like to praise Slovakia for existence of national repository of theses and built-in plagiarism detection tools."
These citations document the significance and value of the ANTIPLAG system.
We have carefully considered the priorities for scaling up the ANTIPLAG system. It resulted in a plan that is in progress now:
- Implementation of translational plagiarism (cross-language plagiarism) detection;
- Extension of the comparative corpus with papers in the Czech and English languages;
- Extended web version of the paper originality check protocol (to reduce paper consumption); and
- Extension of the system to be able to check the originality of other types of students’ essays.
The whole project (acquisition, implementation, operation and further development) is financed by MinEdu.
Graph 4: Monthly traffic in the central repository
ANTIPLAG gained recognition at home and in abroad. Its first success was the 2nd place at ITAPA 2011 Congress focused on IT application in public administration in Slovakia in the category New Services.
In February 2013, we signed up for the competition European Prize for Innovation in Public Administration (in the category “Initiative for Education and Science) which was announced by the European Commission. In the end of March, we were informed that we had proceeded further and on 11 April, we received the information that our application had been shortlisted as one of the six most innovative initiatives in our category. The jury made the final selection on the three winning initiatives in our category based on a hearing and interview in Brussels. We prepared carefully for this event and ANTIPLAG was presented to an independent international jury and European Commission representatives on 22 April 2013. After the presentation, we received the award for shortlisted contestants – a transparent glass ball with the text Innovation Union and EU symbols.
We waited impatiently until 17 May for the final decision. Then the good news came: we were among winners!
European Prize for Innovation in Public Administration
Europe 2020 is the European Union’s ten-year growth strategy. The public sector makes up half of the EU’s gross domestic product. To unleash its potential, public administrations are in need of re-thinking, re-shaping and creating the eco-system needed for innovation. This can be achieved by a new and more collaborative approach to change, and a redefined relationship between citizens and the state, and between the state and the private sector. Innovation Union is one aspect of the Europe 2020 innovation initiative, a 10-year strategy aimed at smart, sustainable, and inclusive EU growth models creating a bridge from research to marketplace. By means of the European Prize for Innovation in Public Administration, the Commission sought to reward excellence and innovation from public administrations that have the potential to be replicated in other European contexts. The contest in which we participated was announced September 2012, with submissions due on 15 February 2013. Contestants were evaluated based on a variety of eligibility and award criteria. Firstly, contestants must have been an established public administration unit at the national, regional or local level in an EU Member State or an FP7 Associated Country with a unique program for consideration that has run from 1 to 4 years, in which the idea, planning, design, launch and administration were fully explained in the award application. (See: link). Secondly, applications were judged upon their innovative applications that were deemed capable of eliciting a profound economic benefit, not just upon a local community, but presented a core innovative idea or procedure which might be scalable and replicable within other European contexts. Finally, as a government-funded initiative, the project was evaluated for how the prize money would benefit the populations at large, as well as its impact upon social inclusiveness--such as generating a positive effect regarding areas such as diversity, aging, affecting the EU populations--or one of the EU's broader challenges like climate change, clean water, renewable energy, et cetera. Once the applications were received they were reviewed by the Commission and independent experts, and then shortlisted applicants participated in organized hearings wherein they underwent further oral examination.
Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn awarded EUR 100,000 to each of the 9 winning initiatives, three from each category (citizens, firms, research and education) during the Week of Innovative Regions in Europe (WIRE IV) Conference in Cork in June 2013.
The implementation of the nationwide ANTIPLAG was a fundamental systemic step and it has brought about positive effects in the fight against the spread of plagiarism. It is a very good preventive tool contributing to improvements in education, to a better understanding and application of academic ethics and integrity, protection of copyright and intellectual property rights, and to raising the quality of students' work with published literature. The papers registered in the central repository from 1 September 2011 are open access, and freely available to the public. Should plagiarism be found, the copyright holder is able to legally pursue copyright infringement. The theses and dissertations are under triple control: the tutor’s control, the examination committee’s control and the public control. The Slovak central repository of theses and dissertations has been created, it lives, and its yearly increase in the number of theses and dissertations is about 75,000.
The fact that the ANTIPLAG system is based on a national uniform methodology for the collection of theses and dissertations brings additional positive effects: MinEdu has a rich database for analytical purposes that meet the needs of ANTIPLAG and by which results are sent exclusively to the HEI and to the author. For researchers, there is a possibility to analyse the similarity index by HEIs, by study fields, by types of theses and by many others aspects.
We are proud that ANTIPLAG is the winner of the European Prize for Innovation in Public Administration 2013 in the category Initiative for Education and Research, organised by the European Commission. The European Prize increased the credit of ANTIPLAG and SCSTI on the domestic scene and generated interest on the international scene. In November 2013, we were invited to present ANTIPLAG in Croatia.
Slovak approach to the implementation of the central repository and the plagiarism detection system is a positive example for other countries how is possible in very short time to prepare nationwide system for plagiarism inhibition. The technology is matured and now we need matured governments, parliaments, public to be able to realise such a system on European Union level.
We are living in the post-industrial era, in the information society. Plagiarism detection systems (PDS) used for originality check of student works have become a common part of their everyday life and contribute to increase the quality of education, shape student’s relationship to intellectual property rights, to moral and ethical values at different levels of education – undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, postdoctoral. Many types of essays, theses, papers and documents can be subject of originality check and the HEIs are not the only institutions that use PDS to check originality. Conference organizers, journal publishers and others before the author’s paper is accepted has to be checked by PDS.
There are other areas where PDS can help: PDS has a huge potential to save taxpayers' money. US GAO (US Government Accountability Office) in the report Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue, published in March 2011 shows the overview of federal programs or functional areas where unnecessary duplication, overlap, or fragmentation exists and where there are other opportunities for potential cost savings or enhanced revenues. In that report there are identified 81 areas for consideration. Senator Tom Coburn, who pushed for the report, estimated it identifies between $100 billion and $200 billion in duplicative spending.
Technology is no panacea; it is just one of the several dimensions of the fight against plagiarism. Education plays an important role - from the early stages of the educational process - in close relation to the prevention and detection in the presence of clearly defined sanctions. There is still a long way to go in order to raise the ethical and moral awareness to a higher level. HEIs are aware of this and strive to improve the moral and knowledge level of students in this regard.
1 In Slovak language: Centrum vedecko-technických informácií SR (CVTI SR).
2 A “small doctorate” can be received by a person with a master’s degree. It requires that a candidate passes rigorous examination and defends his/her thesis.
3 A prerequisite for the granting of the scientific-pedagogical degree “docent” (assistant professor) is habilitation lecture, submission and defense of the habilitation thesis.
4 Sources: Strategies and responses to plagiarism in Slovakia, Barrier to thriving plagiarism, Centralised National Corpus of Electronic Theses and Dissertations.