From the Dean's Office

Interview With Prof Dr Rahmah Hashim
by Dr Nurul Muiz Murad (

PROF DR RAHMAH HASHIM is the Director of the Centre for Graduate Studies (CGS) and a professor at the Faculty of Information Technology and Multimedia Communications (FITMC) and CGS. She has extensive experience teaching at various levels, which also includes education for the blind. Here she shares her views on plagiarism.

Muiz: Please tell us a bit about yourself.

Prof Rahmah: I earned my Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Communication from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) in 1980. I served in UKM for twenty years from 1980 to 2000, beginning as a tutor at the Department of Communication and fi nishing my tenure there as the Head of the same department.

I graduated with a Master’s degree in Instructional Media Technology from Central Missouri State University in 1982. In 1989, I was awarded a PhD in Telecommunication from The Ohio State University.

Muiz: Is plagiarism a big concern at OUM especially with postgraduate students?

Prof Rahmah: In all fairness, plagiarism is not rampant at the postgraduate level but students need to be aware that it is NOT tolerated.

Plagiarism cases can usually be detected in assignments, research projects and dissertations at the Master’s level. On the part of CGS, as soon as plagiarism is detected or reported, we would not hesitate to bring up such cases to the University Disciplinary Committee.

Muiz: Can you give us a few general examples of plagiarism that you have encountered in OUM especially with postgraduate students?

Prof Rahmah: Between January 2006 to September 2009, CGS detected eight plagiarism cases involving Master’s dissertations. Two students were expelled from OUM for plagiarising almost 90% of the contents. The others were slapped with a fi ne of RM500, suspension of study for two semesters, and given a warning. In research cases, wrongdoers are directed to come up with a new research title and proposal, and to begin the research process all over again.

In January semester 2010, two more Master’s projects were found to be plagiarised. Punitive measures were taken after the cases have been scrutinised by the University Disciplinary Committee. The students were given time to defend themselves. Evidence was produced and the students were expelled.

Muiz: What is being done at the moment in OUM to eliminate plagiarism? How can this be applied in CGS?

Prof Rahmah: I do hope the day will come when CGS can declare that plagiarism is eliminated at OUM’s postgraduate programmes.

For the moment, OUM has taken the necessary steps to deter students from plagiarising.

For every course assignment question, instructions are given on how to avoid plagiarism by citing sources of information for the use of words, ideas or data from another source/person, or by paraphrasing and/or using quotation.

The University Policy, Rules and Regulations explicitly state that “No learner may plagiarise the intellectual property of others, including data, ideas, publications and inventions.”

Plagiarism is considered a serious offence and a violation of the Learners’ Code of Ethics. This information is published in the Learners’ Handbook which is available in soft copy version in MyLMS.

Muiz: How can tutors/facilitators help OUM students so that they won’t plagiarise?

Prof Rahmah: Tutors/facilitators can play their role by educating their students about the importance of maintaining high ethical values of academic integrity. They must constantly instil awareness on the need to be honest and trustworthy. They need to give clear explanations at the beginning of their courses about what constitutes plagiarism, ways to avoid plagiarism, and the dire consequences of plagiarism. In turn, all tutors and facilitators need to show exemplary conduct by not tolerating plagiarised work and not turning a blind eye when dealing with plagiarism.

Students need to be reminded that the tertiary degrees conferred to them will be devalued if they were to compromise academic integrity by paying someone else to write the article/assignment/thesis for them, or by submitting someone else’s work as their own, whether with or without permission.

The tutor/facilitator may not be able to detect it then, but over time, the act of plagiarism will have an effect on the person. The feeling of guilt will always hang over the person’s conscience. In the long term, he/she will reveal his/her inability to develop the essential skills of academic researching and writing which underlie postgraduate studies.

Getting a degree may be of paramount importance to the individual student, but every student must be aware that he/she cannot, must not and should never compromise academic integrity for the sake of obtaining a degree.

Muiz: What will be the challenge in OUM to eliminate plagiarism?

Prof Rahmah: OUM students have the added advantage of accessing numerous e-materials from the digital library besides the use of Google and other search engines to locate a wide range of information and knowledge. It is tempting to “cut and paste” chunks of information from those available sources under the false assumption that tutors/facilitators/ examiners would not know that the work is not original. This becomes especially tantalising when students face deadlines and feel pressured to submit their work. Whatever the reasons, plagiarism is a white collar crime, an offence against the learners’ code of ethics, against the University policy, rules and regulations, and is against OUM’s noble values and intellectual conduct.

The challenge lies in monitoring all the assignments and documenting research projects/theses/dissertations to ensure that the students’ work is plagiarism-free. To help prevent plagiarism, one of the immediate actions taken by OUM is to subscribe to plagiarism detection software.

Muiz: Do you think that OUM has to deal with more plagiarism cases, given that we are an ODL institution?

Prof Rahmah: Being an ODL institution does not make OUM more susceptible to plagiarism or less accountable for such unethical conduct. Plagiarism is a serious problem faced by all academic institutions in the world.

Muiz: Do you think postgraduate students plagiarise less compared to undergraduate students? Why?

Prof Rahmah: Plagiarism occurs at all levels of academia. It can occur at the baccalaureate level, Master’s level or doctorate level.

Though punishments are meant to deter offenders, it is hoped that learners (regardless of academic level) would seriously avoid the pitfalls of plagiarism. They should instead focus on the noble values of integrity and academic honesty.

Punishments for plagiarism are very harsh. So better steer clear of the offence before punishment is meted out. No point regretting and crying over spilt milk only after you have been expelled, or after seeing your name splashed in the front pages of newspapers for all the wrong reasons, or having your name deleted from the list of graduating students, or for the university to retract the award from you after having graduated, thus bringing shame to your family and/or workplace for the wrongdoing. As the Malay saying goes: Menyesal dahulu pendapatan, menyesal kemudian tidak berguna

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I can educate my learners about the wrongfulness of plagiarism by:

setting a good example i.e. not committing plagiarism myself in the notes or materials that I give them
teaching them the correct way to quote references in their assignments
explaining to them the difference between original work and plagiarised work
severely penalising them whenever they hand in plagiarised work
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