ISLAMABAD: Despite its purpose as a regulatory body and its anti-plagiarism stance, the Higher Education Commission (HEC) has four blacklisted academics on its approved panel of scholars tasked with supervising the research papers of PhD students.

Recently, a parliamentary bill aiming to curb plagiarism, academic dishonesty and malpractice and substandard research was tabled before the National Assembly by PML-N MNA Shakila Luqman, which was referred to a standing committee for deliberation.

According to the commission, a PhD supervisor is responsible for guiding doctoral candidates in productive and ethical research and helping them with their professional careers.

Currently, there are four HEC approved PhD supervisors that the commission itself has blacklisted for plagiarism. The lists of scholars blacklisted by the commission and of PhD supervisors approved by it are both available on the HEC website.

Scholars whose names occur on both lists include Dr Mohammad Sher from the International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI) Computer Science Department, Imdad Ali Ismaili from the University of Sindh, Jamshoro’s Institute of Information Technology, Dr Rashid from Preston University and Prof Dr Masroor Ikram from the Pakistan Institute of Engineering and Applied Sciences (PIEAS).

Bill aiming to curb plagiarism, academic malpractice recently tabled in NA

When he recently shared details of plagiarism cases, the chairman of the HEC, Dr Mukhtar Ahmed, said the commission had received 198 complaints since 2006, of which 160 have been finalised. He said 90 complaints proved to be false, while 38 faculty members were blacklisted, 38 cases were under process and six were sub judice.

“The HEC has extended Turnitin to every university. The HEC will present a proposal to the commission, the HEC’s governing body, that if a scholar commits plagiarism, his or her supervisor should also be blacklisted,” he stated.

According to an official from the HEC, the plagiarism policy states that a faculty member of any university, once blacklisted, cannot avail any facilities.

“Keeping the names of blacklisted scholars on the list of approved supervisors is a big blunder,” he said.

“Recently, we wrote to the IIUI to impose significant penalities on professor and chairman of the computer sciences and software engineering, Dr Mohammad Sher, from committing heavy plagiarism. I’m surprised Dr Sher’s name is also among the approved supervisors,” he said.

Another HEC official said the body has taken action against plagiarists, but universities have shown little interest in taking action against tainted academics. “There are currently 38 professors who have been blacklisted by the HEC, but all of them are teaching at universities,” he said.

The HEC’s spokesperson, Ayesha Ikram, said according to its policy, blacklisted professors cannot receive any benefits from the commission.

“All those who have been blacklisted are no longer approved supervisors as per our policy,” she told Dawn.

When asked about the two conflicting lists on the HEC website that were still available at the time this report was filed, she said: “If the names are still present on the website, we will remove them. I do agree, the names should not have been included on the lists of approved supervisors.”

Mr Ikram added that a blacklisted professor could not hold an important portfolio at a university. Despite the HEC’s policy, Dr Sher holds the post of chairman of the computer sciences and software engineering department at IIUI.

Draft bill against plagiarism tabled

The mover of the aforementioned parliamentary bill has said that academic research is largely unregulated because the HEC does not have legal force to assert its power to achieve and regulate academic excellence in the country.

“Due to this scenario, the incidents of plagiarism and academic dishonesty as well as mal-practices are not only [common] but also brings bad name for the country in national and international context,” MNA Shakila Luqman stated in the draft bill.

The draft stated: “...The Higher Education Commission (HEC) being a regulatory authority has a mandate to regulate the conduct of private and public academic institutions, yet it is unable to curb plagiarism and other mal-practices in which faculty is itself alleged to be involved. Resultantly, this bill intends to strengthen the role of Higher Education Commission (HEC) for the enhancement of quality education in Pakistan in inconsonance with clause (c) of Article 37 of the Constitution.”

Ms Luqman told Dawn that she wanted to use the legislation to strengthen the HEC to take stringent action against plagiarists. “Currently, there is no proper law to fix plagiarists – I have moved this bill to curb plagiarism, academic dishonesty and substandard research,” she said.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2016