Plagiarism is not indigenous to Vietnam but an academic and professional problem percolating around the world. The main, and the most obvious, reason for this is the speed and ease of the internet.
Recently there were a few cases in Vietnam where blatant plagiarism was discovered. The incident last year at Ho Chi Minh City’s Marine Time’s Vocational College with the 35 marine students turning in an identical 70-page paper is an extreme example.
Le Duc Thong, who used to be employed by Ho Chi Minh City Institute of Physics has had international attention drawn to him when his research, including seven articles, were found to have included parts taken from other published materials without offering any proper credit. Two of those articles were ghost written by his wife, Dr. Nguyen Thi Thu Huong, and were also plagiarized.
As a research and writing lecturer in a few universities in Ho Chi Minh City, I have found several instances of the exact same situation among my students. Once a woman who often never came to class, and a man would appear under her name, turned in a paper that had copied entire paragraphs directly from the internet without any regard to the respect to herself, the instructor, and, most importantly, to the writer. I asked the woman if she wrote the paper and showed her the evidence against her.
Stunned and ashamed, she looked at the highlighted passages on her essay and at the highlighted passages I had printed out from the internet. She told me that her husband wrote the paper. This is probably the lowest form of plagiarism I could imagine. I informed her not to come back to my class until she was ready do the work herself and to learn how to do research and to write professionally. She never came back.
Perhaps plagiarism in Vietnam has much to do with the culture becoming fixated on instant gratification. Perhaps it has much to do with the desire to learn new information at an incredibly intense rate. Perhaps some people have no morals and simply do not care; after all, if they don’t get caught, it is acceptable behavior; correct?
The most important lesson I teach my students deals more with integrity than with writing. A writer at any level must sit down to write alone. There are instances, however, in situations where several professionals can collaborate in their research and all become the author of the research. The latter approach has its advantages; some drawbacks to this method is when one writer does all the work and the others sit back and do very little, or when one researcher copies from the internet and the others are left clueless but still responsible.
Nevertheless, the problem of plagiarism should not fall on the shoulders of the students alone. The instructor should also be held responsible for not only checking for plagiarism but also for teaching about ethics, which is one course rarely offered in universities.
In the case of the 35 marine students, several colleagues of mine all agree: the original instructor paid to grade the reports probably did not read any of them; seriously, who would want to read 2,450 individual pages at such low pay? Regardless, that was the instructor’s job. No excuses.
The marine students, in the end, were only caught to have plagiarized after they graduated and no punishment has befallen them for their academic treachery. The Vietnamese researcher, Le Duc Thong, was caught because international standards are much higher when it comes to authentic and original research. In the latter case, the community was responsible for upholding integrity, which in turn protects forward progress.
If there are such things as social evils in Vietnam, plagiarism should be counted among them. The act of plagiarism cripples the academic and social communities in Vietnam and inspires laziness and lies rather than encouraging the community to professionalism and honesty.