The parliament of Montenegro, a small country in the southeast of Europe, approved a law on academic integrity earlier this month that effectively criminalizes plagiarism, self-plagiarism and donation of authorship. We spoke to Mubera Kurpejović, director of higher education at the country’s Ministry of Education, explains why the law was needed and what they hope it will achieve.
Why did Montenegro need such a law, given that no other country in the region has anything similar?
Adoption of the Law on Academic Integrity is an affirmation of the state’s determination to deal with integrity in a quality manner and thus influence citizens’ awareness of this important issue, as well as their awareness of the harmfulness of the violation of academic integrity. The recommendation to adopt a special law on this came out of a feasibility study on a customized system for the prevention of plagiarism in Montenegro.
Also, we are proud that the Law is a product of an inter-departmental working group with participation of universities, trade union, NGOs, and there was even support from the Council of Europe and its experts, which confirms that this is an excellent way to fight non-academic behavior.
Is plagiarism particularly widespread in the country?
Montenegro is not the only country confronted with the plagiarism problem. But what we emphasize as important is that Law doesn’t only deal with the issue of plagiarism, but also with other forms of breaching academic integrity, which even includes student scams. The law even recognizes fabrication in scientific research, which consist of inventing data and results of scientific research and publishing them.
[The law bans falsification in scientific research, donation of authorship, and quoting people out of context.] In addition, according to this law the following are all considered to be violations of the principle of academic integrity: copying, use of non-approved means and literature during exams and other forms of knowledge testing, taking exams and other examinations of knowledge on behalf of another person, as well as other ways of students cheating in exams and in other forms of knowledge checking.
How do you think the new law will solve the problem of academic misconduct?
First of all, we think that the law will raise awareness of individuals about academic integrity, and at the same time affect all educational actors so that they teach children from the youngest days about the harm of copying, and about how to write papers and cite properly, etc., so as not to come into the situation to commit one of the acts of breaching integrity.
All authors will sign a statement confirming under their criminal and material responsibility that the piece is their original work. Also, instead of the previous court of honor, all institutions are obliged to establish Ethical Committees that will deal with the protection and enhancement of academic integrity at the institutional level.
The law also prescribes the introduction of the [national-level] Ethics Committee for the first time, as a second level for establishing a violation of academic integrity. The Ethics Committee will be appointed and dismissed by the Government for a period of four years on the basis of a public call. The Committee will have seven members from among the distinguished experts from various scientific fields. The Committee will also adopt the Charter of Ethics.
Through a high-quality and transparent work of the above-mentioned bodies, and through clear procedures and full implementation of the law, our system will be of a higher quality and will be protected from the phenomenon of unethical behavior.
What are some of the possible penalties for academics who are found guilty under this law?
The Criminal Code recognizes plagiarism as a criminal offense.
When we talk about penalties prescribed by this law, they are completely clear: Work (professional, scientific or artistic) which competent authority determines is a plagiarism will be considered null and void, as well as any grades, prizes, jobs and titles acquired by a person on the basis of such work. The institution is obliged to declare null and void all grades, prizes, jobs and titles that the aforementioned person acquired at that institution, on the basis of such work.
Further, penalties vary from reprimand to other measures in accordance with the Criminal Code, and with the Law on Academic Integrity and special acts of the institution. It is also understood that the institutions themselves will be obliged to pass special acts that further define the procedures.
Have Montenegro’s ongoing efforts to join the European Union play any part in passing of this law? Is it related to the EU requirements?
There are no primary sources in the EU that regulate this area, but the quality of education and the prevention of corruption definitely do take significant place on Montenegro’s accession agenda the EU.
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