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Russian authorities have rolled up their sleeves to put an end to scandals over plagiarism in theses and dissertation that have entangled many politicians and members of the officialdom.
The Ministry of Education and Science has already drafted new rules of awarding the degrees in research. Personal responsibility of the individuals engaged in the assessment of scientific papers has been introduced - they will be held accountable if they endorse low-quality works.
The text of theses and dissertations should now be uploaded in the Internet several months before the date of defense examination and the period of appealing has been extended to ten years.
The state portal regulation.gov.ru published a draft resolution on the regulations for awarding scientific degrees and a draft resolution on the Supreme Attestation Commission of the Russian Federation.
Kommersant Daily says the new documents introduce drastic changes in the system of defending the thesis and doctoral dissertations. The document designed by the Ministry tightens up the requirements for the research articles that each prospective Candidate and Doctor of Sciences - the degrees in Russia’s two-stage system of scientific qualifications - is expected to publish in the run-up to defending his or her work. While previously an aspirant to a scientific degree was expected to publish only one such article in a magazine or newsletter of an authorized research organization or university /the aspirants in arts studies and some humanities were expected to publish three articles/, the new required minimum is two articles. As for the post-graduates and higher doctorate students specializing in humanities, they will be expected to up to fifteen articles.
A full text of a thesis should be uploaded in the Internet two months before the date of ‘defense examination’ and three months before the defense of a dissertation. The period in which one can file an appeal against the contents of a thesis or dissertation has increased from three to ten years.
The overhauled guidelines envision personal responsibility of all the individuals taking part in the assessments of research papers for their quality. The scope of these individuals embraces both members of dissertational commissions and the staff members of the Supreme Attestation Commission. If it turns out that they pass a cribbed or low-quality work, each of them will lose the right to work with dissertations for several years.
These changes have been brought up by a campaign of exposures of numerous forged theses ostensibly written by well-known businessmen and politicians. The scandal was kicked off by an inspection that the Ministry of Education held at the end of January at the Moscow State Pedagogical University.
An expert commission consisting of historians and other research experts scrutinized 19 dissertations /the senior doctoral degree under the Russian system of degrees/ and six theses /the junior doctoral degree known as the Candidate of Sciences/ in history that were defended from 2007 through to the present. As a result, cases of plagiarism were exposed in all the works but one. The commission said in its conclusions that the university had “streamlined the production of fake research papers”.
In the wake of the findings, the Supreme Attestation Commission’s Presidium passed a decision to strip fourteen persons entangled in the scandal of the degrees. The university’s dissertational board was closed and the university’s President was fired.
The scandal around the forges theses of Russian politicians and public employees had a bearing on those who obtained the degrees illicitly and, on top of that, on those who handed them out. It spotlighted the well-known members of the Academy of Sciences - and even some top administrators of the Academy - who put their signatures under the dissertations of bureaucrats where ‘importations’ had been found.
According to the information provided by the Moskovsky Komsomolets popular paper, the list of top-rank names enmeshed in the scandal may include Dr Gennady Mesyats, a member of the Academy’s Presidium who occupied the post of Vice-President before June 1, 2013 and stood at the head of the Supreme Attestation Commission from 1998 through 2005, the incumbent President of the Academy, Dr Vladimir Fortov, Vice-President Taliya Khabriyeva, and Deputy President, Vladimir Schultz, who were members of the Supreme Attestation Commission from 1998 through to 2005.
It was precisely in the aforesaid years that the bulk of scandalous theses and dissertations were defended. Moskovsky Komsomolets also names some of the VIPs whose research papers contain definite amounts of dubious ‘implants’ - the Presidential ombudsman for the rights of children Pavel Astakhov, the Deputy Speaker of the Duma, Vladimir Vassilyev, St Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko, Tula region Governor Vladimir Gruzdev, and others.
Internet activists were quick to throw their shoulder into the unmasking of plagiarizers. The web projects Dissernet and Guber-disser were set up. Their participants charged many high-rank officials, including regional governors with copying the research works authored by others.
Bloggers identified what they said were instances of cribbing in the theses of the chief of Duma faction of the Liberal Democratic Party, Igor Lebedev, who is the son of the Liberal Democrats’ lifetime leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, United Russia Party MP Yevgeny Fyodorov, the deputy chief of the parliamentary committee for education, Vladimir Burmatov, and a member of the United Russia faction, Olga Batalina.
More exposures followed in April. This time, the newly exposed plagiarizer was the 64-year-old Governor of Ryazan Region, Oleg Kovalyov. Journalist Sergei Parkhomenko, the founder of the Guber-disser project, wrote that three passages taken word-for-word from other authors’ dissertations were found in his thesis.
Parkhomenko also found a ‘glaring coincidence’ of a thesis, which the Tula region Governor Vladimir Gruzdev defended in 2003, and a paper defended in 1998. “The / governor’s/ thesis contains 182 pages, including the 168 pages copied in a lump,” he wrote in the Internet.
The reforms proposed by the Ministry of Education and Sciences have been met with words of praise by and large.
“The openness of the process and the uploading of works in the Internet means a big step forward,” Kommersant quotes Professor Andrei Rostovtsev, an ideologist of the Dissernet project. “It’s unclear, though, why the works are kept uploaded in the Internet only for a few months after the date of defense. If you take Europe, there are no such restrictions there.”
“These are the right steps but they won’t help resolve the problem,” believes Alexander Abramov, a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Education. “What’s needed is amassed inspections and an amassed revoking of degrees endorsed in the past, especially when it concerns much-lauded people. Particularly harsh measures are needed.”
He recalls that the whole matter has been confined to a few personalities on just one dissertational board for the time being.
“And if there’s so much rubbish at just one council, how much of it do we have across the whole country then?” he asks rhetorically enough.