Tackling plagiarism through homegrown detection software
As part of efforts to tackle the menace of plagiarism in Nigerian universities, the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVCNU)– the umbrella organisation for vice-chancellors of federal, state and private universities – has developed a software that detects plagiarised research works.
The group explained that the software was developed to promote originality in academic research. The Chairman, Prof. Samuel Edoumiekumo, said the software, called Eaglescan, was developed by CVCNU in conjunction with directors of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) of six universities.
Most higher institutions are battling the menace of plagiarism and are making efforts to curb the ugly trend.
Already, Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) has commenced a process of digitising thesis and projects in the nation’s higher institutions. Former executive secretary of TETFund, Prof Suleiman Bogoro, shortly before he left office, said plans were on to ensure full digitisation of libraries in the nation’s tertiary institutions to discourage plagiarism by researchers at any level.
He said digitisation of dissertations and theses for researchers, universities and libraries would enhance easy access.
Bogoro said the digitisation project is driven by concerns for storage, accessibility and fight against plagiarism.
The proposed digitisation will dematerialise and electronise thesis and projects, starting with thesis at the Ph.D and master’s levels, across beneficiary institutions.
“We are living witnesses to the fact that the world has gone digital and we cannot continue to operate in an analogue mode. A number of materials from post-graduate and even undergraduate thesis have disappeared during fire incidents, once the physical papers are burnt. If the theses are dematerialised and stored in various forms at different centres, it will be easier to access them, going forward.
“Digitisation of thesis provides easy access to inputs and outcomes of research at a click of the button and within seconds or minutes. It would increase the global presence of Nigerian tertiary institutions; improve their global ranking and rating. It would also go a long way in detecting and curbing plagiarism, which is a serious breach of academic integrity that seeks to detract from the value of original and honest works of scholarship,” he said.
Fighting the menace
SECRETARY-GENERAL of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors of Nigerian Universities, Prof Yakubu Ochefu, recalled his time as a lecturer at the University of Calabar (UNICAL).
“I was supervising a student, who wrote a very beautiful thesis on the Eastern Ceramics Industry in Umuahia. I had no time to thoroughly supervise him, because he was a brilliant student and wrote extremely well. But a new lecturer UNICAL had just employed walked into my office one day, saw the thesis and recognised it as research that had been written sometime ago.”
Similarly, in 2019, a former executive secretary of NUC, Prof Peter Okebukola, said more than 60 per cent of academic work by undergraduates was plagiarised, decrying the high level of academic corruption in Nigeria.
Okebukola also said between 15 and 20 per cent of theses were plagiarised by masters students while eight per cent of thesis were plagiarised at the Ph.D level.
There have been some high-profile plagiarism cases. For instance, in 2013, the University of Calabar reportedly sacked four lecturers, who were accused of plagiarism. Three years later, two lecturers of the same university, one of whom was a professor, were reportedly dismissed for the offence.
Ekiti State University sacked six lecturers for plagiarism. Similarly in 2017, Delta State University also sacked some lecturers for plagiarism.
The Federal Polytechnic, Nekede, in Imo State, demoted 25 lecturers over plagiarism. In 2021, the polytechnic’s rector, Dr Michael Chidiebere, read the riot act to all lecturers and students, stating that a committee had been put in place to checkmate plagiarism for necessary disciplinary actions.
Worried by the increasing cases among students, the vice chancellors met on how to tackle the epidemic. They discovered that Nigerian students were not cheating or dubbing academic work from the global database, but cheating among themselves.
For instance, students from the Lagos State University (LASU) would copy from their colleagues at the University of Lagos (UNILAG), while those from UNILAG would copy from those at the University of Ibadan (UI), those from UI would copy from those at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), and so on.
Unfortunately, the academic works being plagiarised were not in any global database, they were stored at the departmental libraries of these universities.
To address the trend, an Internet-based service that detects similarities in texts, using a global app, Turnitin, founded in 1998, by an American company Turnitin, LLC, was conceived.
Turnitin was not known in the Nigerian university system at the time, so, the CVCNU set up a committee to meet with a Turnitin team in the United Kingdom to discuss the licensing of the software for use in the nation’s tertiary institutions.
“Turnitin signed a special licensing agreement with Nigerian universities and we hoped we could finally solve the problem but, unfortunately, it failed.”
Ochefu explained that if the students were copying researches of their counterparts from institutions like Harvard or Oxford University, Turnitin would have been able to discover plagiarised thesis. When the two-year special licensing agreement was over, the problem had no end in sight.
Finding a home-grown solution
FOLLOWING the failure of Turnitin app to address the problem of plagiarism, it was suggested that local software be developed to tackle the menace.
The information communications technology directorates of all the country’s universities at the time were consulted – all charged with the task of building an anti-plagiarism service that was suitable for the Nigerian academic community.
At the end, a team of developers was assembled from six universities: Al-Hikmah University, Ilorin, University of Jos, University of Ilorin, Delta State University, Benue State University and Covenant University. The CVCNU also got support from bodies including National Universities Commission (NUC), Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), the Federal Ministry of Education and Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB).
Ochefu said a prototype of the anti-plagiarism software was built but the project was suspended due to lack of financial resources and other challenges. The project later resumed and by last April, the anti-plagiarism software, named,
EagleScan, was ready.
How the software works
THE EagleScan service has a plagiarism checker, a local and global repository, peer review, document comparison, grammar checker, similarity index, language support/converter, and abstract validation. Ochefu said the EagleScan is not only suitable for universities, but also for other institutions like polytechnics and colleges of education.
Data showed that as of June 2022, the EagleScan software was being used by more than 230 institutions, 57 of them higher education institutions and 4,200 subscribers. Over 790,000 documents had been indexed, while more than 5,800 repositories had been made.
Ochefu said more efforts needed to be made by universities and other institutions to digitise their projects for EagleScan to have a robust database.
“The goal is to digitise two billion pages of thesis dating back 10 years. This will lay the foundation of an academic research repository in Nigeria,” he said.
The developer team is also said to be working round-the-clock to build an artificial intelligence system into EagleScan to recognise paraphrased thesis by students as well as academic work converted from another language into English.
In the nearest future, Ochefu said the anti-plagiarism software would enhance the quality of research, teaching and learning in Nigeria. He lamented that there is no Nigerian university where plagiarism is not rampant, which is why the anti-plagiarism software is important.
VICE President Yemi Osinbajo, at the inauguration of the software in Abuja, described plagiarism as another form of corruption. He said the Federal Government is committed to supporting initiatives that will continue to build and enhance the integrity of higher institutions.
Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, said the indigenous anti-plagiarism software would facilitate the desired quality expected in institutions of higher learning. NUC’s Executive Secretary, Abubakar Rasheed, emphasised the need to institutionalise anti-plagiarism policy in all higher institutions. Rasheed said doing this would encompass various aspects of plagiarism.
“Having the software is one aspect of the battle against plagiarism, universities must take concrete steps to institutionalise anti-plagiarism policy that forbids all aspects of the intellectual theft. For so long, issues of plagiarism and copyright infringements have robbed our universities the much desired integrity.”
Deputy Chairman, Senate Committee on Higher Education, Sandy Onor, said the software would address challenges of academic research authentication and validation.
The Registrar, Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), Prof Ishaq Oloyede, pleaded that the plagiarism detection software be tagged a national repository, saying this would create more opportunities for institutions across all sectors to subscribe.
An educationist, Dr Kunle Alebiosu, lamented that plagiarism is a menace that has eaten deep into the educational system and should be addressed immediately to curb its negative effects on the individual, society and world at large.
Alebiosu expressed hope that with the EagleScan app, plagiarism will be effectively tackled in the nation’s tertiary institutions.
In the same vein, TETFund has said that all research proposals by lecturers and other scholars will be subjected to an anti-plagiarism test before attracting the funding of the agency.
Executive Secretary of the agency, Sonny Echono, said only proposals that scale through the CVC-developed anti-plagiarism software would get its grant.
Echono said: “The agency has adopted a policy that going forward, all proposals coming to us for support must go through your system and receive certification that they have acquired the minimum standard required from all publishers and authors before they can benefit from our support.”
Students have expressed mixed reactions over the new software. While some lauded the move, others described it as unnecessary, saying plagiarism is a global phenomenon.
For Richard Nelson, a 300-level student of University of Lagos, the software is a good development, as it will discourage students from taking short cuts and encourage hard work.
Thomas Adesiyan of the Federal University, Oye Ekiti (FUOYE), said plagiarism is on the increase because there is insufficient mentoring of students by their lecturers.
Adebusola Oritoke of Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ago Iwoye, described the move as unnecessary, saying rather than expend so much energy on it; they, university administrators, should focus on how to improve teaching and infrastructural facilities and a conducive atmosphere that will make learning easier.
Adams Thompson, 300-level Biology student of University of Ibadan (UI), said it is a reflection of the general rot in the nation’s education system. He said the system is already flawed and needs complete overhaul.