Feb 26 2019

Dismissal of Turkish academics helped spur rise in plagiarism - DW

From undergraduate essays to master's theses and even doctoral dissertations, Turkey is experiencing a boom in academic ghostwriting, said German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.

Turkish universities, particularly the country’s more than 60 private ones, are facing a new challenge: students paying a ghostwriting firm to write their papers.

“A short search on online academic forums found that some 50 companies are operating on this ghostwriter market,” DW reported on Monday.

Papers cost between 500 euros and 3,000 euros (3,000 and 18,000 Turkish lira), with revenue totaling more than 25 million euros per year, according to DW.

The sharp rise in the number of ghostwritten dissertations is due in part to all the private universities that have opened in the last five years, according to Görkem Doğan, the chairman of Eğitim-Sen, a union for people working in education and academia.

Many university teachers lost their jobs after Turkey imposed a state of emergency following the failed coup of June 2016. More than 100,000 public service employees were formally suspended from their jobs, while more than 6,000 academics were dismissed by a special decree issued by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

"It may be hard to prove whether the suspension of these academics caused the marked increase in ghostwriters or not. But it is a fact that the suspensions were another real blow to Turkey's already shaken academic sphere," said Doğan.

A DW reporter pretending to be a student writing his master's thesis asked a representative of a ghostwriting company about prices. The employee said that he himself was an academic. "I am also on the examination board for both the doctoral viva and the thesis defence," he said. "I write any academic paper for 7,000 Turkish liras (1,200 euros)."

The company specialised in medicine, clinical psychology and management. "About 70 percent of the students we cater to are from medical faculties. When we write a paper for them, we make use of the know-how of surgical or orthopaedic specialists, for example. The experts we work with receive a monthly fee of €800 to €1,200 from us. Our prices for medical papers start at €1,700," the company representative said.

He said the academic papers were invoiced. "It is not illegal, but perhaps somewhat unethical," he said. When asked whether there were problems with the examination board, he answered: "I am a member of the board myself and mostly take on the role of the person asking critical questions. What is more, the board includes friends of the advising professor. One will speak out against the paper; the other will praise it in the highest terms. And the third is there to tie up the deal."

In Turkey, ghostwriting is not illegal. Agencies and companies that write academic papers for money are called academic consultants and book the service as office work.

If a university finds out that a paper has not been written by a student but by a third person, the student can expect to be suspended and asked to rework the paper, according to DW.

Turkey’s higher education council, YÖK, views this sort of ghostwriting as plagiarism. In December 2016, YÖK proposed making it punishable by fines, adding that if an academic were discovered to have written a student's paper, she or he should face possible dismissal. But these proposals never moved forward.

Private universities in the Istanbul districts of Üsküdar and Nişantaşı have been suspected of allowing or even encouraging ghostwriting. DW confronted Sevil Atasoy, the vice chancellor of Üsküdar University, with the accusations that theses at her institute were being ghostwritten for money. She called on those making such accusations to present their proof, and said there has never been a well-founded accusation regarding ghostwriting at Üsküdar.

Vahdet Özkoçak, who heads OGESEN, the union of teaching staff, believes the number of ghostwritten papers has risen significantly. He said there were too few experienced academic staff and tenured professors.

At established state-run universities, passing off ghostwritten papers is difficult, according to Özkoçak, while private universities see students only as paying customers. He lamented a massive loss of competence at Turkish universities over the past 20 years, and said that YÖK had known about the problem of ghostwriting for years, but had never acted to curb it.

"Without recognition, competence and patriotism, the teachers turn to the unethical occupation of ghostwriting," Özkoçak said. "We can't solve our problems like this. Setting up a ministry for university affairs is urgently necessary.”