Now more than ever, the issue of truth, integrity and value are paramount to postsecondary education. With the current debate surrounding facts and alternate facts, academia must do all it can to hold the line and ensure it instills a code of practice that serves to protect and support knowledge development, rather than draw into question providence and relevance.
In January 2017 alone, outside a major education hub in Dubai, I found two flyers on my car windscreen offering ghost writing services. Student mobility is a fundamental element of higher education and outwardly mobile students will turn increasingly to these services. Mobility of knowledge is likewise essential but expectations and awareness must be addressed. For academics, the issue of plagiarism is clear; we recognize material that has been ‘stolen’. For many students, plagiarism and its consequences are felt as a form of discrimination when the problem often results from a lack of awareness, training or preparation.
Technology is a partial solution to this issue but not the answer. Software programmes such as Turnitin cannot replace the code of ethics required to ensure original knowledge is protected.Increasingly, universities have a public anti-plagiarism strategy, particularly those institutions more actively engaged with transnational education. With issues of accreditation and international validation, there is a natural impetus to ensure that the quality of provision is the same across borders and that the quality of students is likewise, comparable.
The IDP database of research on international education yields multiple entries examining the issue of plagiarism from the perspective of international students at western institutions but lists only 9 articles since 2004 with any real focus on transnational programmes. While considerable research and commentary exists regarding elements of transnational education, these are largely concerned with marketing and partnerships.
Institutions can take their lead from national policies. The UK Quality Assurance Agency, The UAE Knowledge and Human Development Agency and the Australian Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, all linked by their membership of the Quality Beyond Boundaries Group and a commitment to quality assurance of cross border higher education, are examples of organizations with clear guidelines on plagiarism. What is lacking however, is language specific to transnational education.
Transnational Education (TNE)
Why then should this be a particular issue within cross border/transnational education? Transnational education is evolving to take its place as a source of research output and knowledge creation rather than solely as a provider of degrees. As transnational education providers mature, they gain a greater connection to and understanding of, their surroundings. The opportunities for research engagement and collaboration grow and the branch campus develops its own identity, if not separate from the home campus, then at least distinct. Increased student recruitment to postgraduate degrees provides opportunities in this area but also a necessity to promote a coherent and clear approach to knowledge creation.
Transnational education represents an attempt to standardize delivery and learning outcomes while encouraging an international dimension. Staff and students are often operating in a ‘foreign’ context, both in terms of the country where education is delivered and the originating country of the institution. Regulations, training and monitoring are essential to ensure that everyone in the equation adheres to the desired quality assurance and code of ethics. When the university is from country A, the professor from country B and educated in country C, the student from country D and the campus itself in country E, this is a recipe for potential confusion.
When studying on a transnational programme, standards and expectations are often more opaque in nature. An international student studying for a degree in one country, issued by an institution from another, is subject to a set of expectations and realities that are often not clearly defined or communicated. Culture and cultural norms are a factor. Preconceived notions of knowledge and referencing can impact on the ability of a student to adapt to a new and alien system. Linguistic capabilities, previous experience, institutional support and communication and teaching and learning styles are all relevant and contributing elements.
The challenges listed above can lead to a flexible approach but also a weakening of resolve. The dominance of English as the language of instruction, coupled with the increased pressure on student recruitment generate a tension that must be addressed.
The responsibility to ensure an ethical approach to academia must be shared. Students have a role to play but institutions cannot assume their levels of knowledge or understanding. Punishing the student without providing learning opportunities or access to information is neither efficient, nor pedagogically sound. Increased mobility requires a more systematic and sophisticated strategy.
As higher education worldwide continues to recruit internationally and encourage the movement of people, institutions must likewise support and monitor the movement of knowledge with greater care. The approach and response must be balanced and fair— training and communication coupled with appropriate penalties. Where bias exists, it should be in defense of knowledge creation and in support of the transferability of a transnational degree.