Plagiarism in Korea: How did only 200 People get Caught?

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Plagiarism South Korea

Plagiarism in Korea: Sketchiest of the Sketchy

A recent article from Time Magazine about plagiarism in Korean universities. You can see it here: 200 South Korean Professors Charged in Massive Plagiarism Scam. The gist of it is that these professors changed the author names and covers of textbooks and passed them off as their own, with the assistance of a publishing company. Sketcccccchhhhhhy, to say the least.

However, this is not surprising to me. If you’ve been in Korea for more than a few months, it’s probably not to you either. Keep on reading for my thoughts on it.

Academic Integrity Misadventures: Nothing New on this Blog

I’ve certainly talked about academic integrity misadventures in South Korean universities on this blog before. Here is just one such example from my Golden Handcuffs post:

Reason #1 (Korean University Jobs are Traps): No Academic Integrity in Korea

Over the years, I’ve seen the most ridiculous things that would fall under the category of academic integrity misadventures. In fact, it may be the subject of my next book, once I leave Korea.

Kind of a “tell-all,” about what it’s really like teaching in a Korean university and how ridiculous it all is. At first I was shocked by the cheating, plagiarism, lying, grade-fixing, diplomas to anyone who will pay for them, bribery, and paying for academic appointments, but no longer.

Now, I mostly just play the game because it’s way easier than fighting the system. Koreans have mostly given up too and they know that the system is screwed up but they feel powerless to fix it.

I used to fight and give that senior an “F” who never showed up for a single class, nor did a single assignment and skipped all his tests. What did it get me? Harassment, and stalking from the students and very little support from the admin in regards to the actual grade as well as the stalking situation. Now? Here’s your D buddy, don’t let me stand in the way of paying for your diploma. You paid your tuition, so it doesn’t matter how much you actually studied. Good luck in the real world.

Seriously, I’ve just given up. Most foreign English do after a year or two. It just starts to grind you down.

How did only 200 get Caught?

So, let’s just say that when I read this article from Time, I was certainly not surprised in the least. It’s not like this kind of stuff is a secret. You could ask anyone who’s been working in a Korean university for more than a year or two and they’d tell you the same thing.

The only really, truly surprising thing is that only 200 professors were caught in the bust. I personally thought it would have numbered up into the 1000’s. Maybe it’s just the one publishing company that got busted but there are a ton of others out there doing the same thing.

Who knows. Maybe more will turn up?

What about Dissertations and Journal Publications?

As my one friend pointed out on Facebook, textbooks are only a very small area of the total volume of material being “written” and published. I’d venture a guess and say that the number of plagiarized dissertations and journal publications would also number in the 1000’s. That’s at the extremely low end.

It’s totally normal in Korea to force a “junior” to put your name on an academic paper. Most people would assume the “senior” did some work? This isn’t always the case.

Why not the Name and Shame?

Perhaps these 200 professors were named and shamed in the Korean media, but just not in the English versions. Anyone better at Korean than I who could tell me? If they weren’t, why not? It’s time for universities here to take a serious look at what’s happening inside their four walls and to clean up their act.

Everyone who teaches in Korean universities (and foreign students who study here) know that Korean degrees aren’t really worth the paper that they’re written on. When you get your degree just for paying the tuition, well, the actual learning becomes kind of an afterthought.

Cheating = No Problem

It all starts at the very bottom. Students cheat on papers and tests all the time. Then they caught and cry and beg for a second change. They get given a second chance by their Korean professors, often with no consequence. They continue doing this, on and on, and on and on, with the result being this sort of cheating ridiculousness at even the highest levels.

Students think I’m basically the meanest teacher ever for giving them a “0” on whatever they cheat on with no second chance, even if I’ve explicitly warned them that this would be the result. I mean, they’re actually surprised by it which leads me to think that every single one of the Korean teachers up until that point had either looked the other way, or given the second chance.

Please Understand our Unique Culture

Whenever I talk about the subject of plagiarism with Koreans, they often talk to me like I’m a total moron who has no understanding of the world that I live in. Please understand our unique culture. In Korea, it’s okay to cheat and steal and bribe your way to the top as long as you don’t get caught. Yes, I most certainly do understand that aspect of Korean culture, but it most certainly does not make it right.

Stealing something that someone else wrote and slapping your own name on it with a new cover? There’s no way this comes out looking anything less than totally sketch, no matter what country you’re in. It’s not okay just because everyone does it in Korea. Stealing is stealing is stealing. I REFUSE to do it! If I had my way, every student who cheated in my class would get a “0” and be expelled from the university.

Let’s Sum This Rant Up

Plagiarism in Korea = Embarrassing. When are you ever going to learn? Your universities are a joke. It’s time to clean house and stop looking the other way.

The Problem With Plagiarism in South Korea

It really is a thing!

How to Prevent Cheating When Teaching at Korean Universities

Here are a few things I did in my classes to prevent this problem.

Tip #1: Minimize Take-Home Assignments

Here’s how I deal with plagiarism in Korean universities when I’m teaching advanced level writing to English major students. I only assign 2 “at-home” assignments, both worth 10% of the final grade, for a total of 20%. I give extremely specific topics for a very specific type of essay, word-counts and requirements for things like thesis statements and topic sentences. Or, students have to do a speech in class for a speaking class.

It’s possible that students could cheat on this, but it would be quite difficult because the assignment is so specific in nature. Even if a few cheaters slip by me, it’s only 20% of their final grade so I’m not really worried about it because this will not propel a C or D level student into an A.

Tip #2: Maximize In-Class Exam Percentages

The bulk of the grade in my writing class (55%) consists of in-class exams that require writing a 5-paragraph essay in 50 minutes. I give the students a list of about 15 possible topics. Then on the test day, they have a choice of 2 of the topics which I choose at random.

I only allow paper or electronic dictionaries and not cell-phones. This makes it almost impossible to upload sample essays or something like that. While they can prepare some of their ideas at home, it’s an actual test of writing and not copying something they’ve already prepared.

Say a student really can’t write and gets only 30/55 on these final exams. Even if they get a perfect score on everything else (through cheating), their final percentage will be 75%, which equals only a C+.

Good Students=love it. Bad Students=hate it

It works for me, but I understand it’s a pretty intense way to do exams in a writing class. The students don’t love it because it’s actually quite a difficult exam. This is especially true if you struggle to write a sentence.

However, the better students appreciate the fairness of it, This is because the ones who can actually write will get the higher grades. Those who are terrible can’t bluff their way through it by getting a native speaker to write an essay for them, or plagiarizing, as the case may be.

I have a feeling these weaker students have been cheating and bluffing their way through English classes for years, with little consequence. Not on my watch!

Do I care too much? Maybe. But, I guess I like to pretend that what I do actually makes a difference.

What about Those I do Catch Cheating?

If I do catch someone who has copied something (it usually happens once or twice per assignment in a class of 20), I give the student a “0.” There’s also no second chance to re-do the assignment. I don’t even talk to them, I just write “0” on the top on their paper and then list the Internet site where I found their work.

They’re usually pretty embarrassed (as they should be). However, I don’t talk to them because I don’t even care what the excuse is that they’ll inevitably give me. Nor am I willing to give them a second chance, no matter what.

It would have been far, far better if they had asked me for an extra day to do the assignment in case of emergency instead of just copying something. The perhaps worst part is that students think that their teachers won’t notice.

Or, they could have written something terrible on their own. Then, come to my office hours and I would have helped them to make it better. But, they don’t.

Seriously, there are so many better solutions than cheating.

What do You Think?

Is cheating a big problem in your classes when teaching at a Korean university? How do you deal with it? Leave a comment below and let us know your thoughts about this.


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  1. “Perhaps these 200 professors were named and shamed in the Korean media, but just not in the English versions. Anyone better at Korean than I who could tell me? If they weren’t, why not?”

    Korea has ridiculously strict libel laws. The fact that you wrote the truth is not a defense if it causes someone to suffer financial or other harm. If you write a tell-all, don’t plan on coming back.

    I wrote about libel here in 2011:

  2. Korean Univ. teachers also must publish to keep their jobs. So there are inside Korean “journals” that basically will publish whatever they profs pay them to publish…which gets them off the hook…this is very rampant and these companies make a lot of money….when you write your book my friend who started a journal can tell you all about it, his is official though, registered in the US.

  3. Dhileep M

    I too have the same experience in Korea.I too saw Cheating = No Problem; and the funny reply of “unique culture” as an excuse for all the unethical things going on.
    I have even seen the co author is awarded PhD, where the first author of the paper is an international student

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