In Kuwait, Students Can Buy Ready-Made Research
This investigative report was supported by Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) and first ran in Arabic in Alqabas, a publication based in Kuwait. This edited translation appears here with the permission of ARIJ and the reporter.
KUWAIT—Rashid al-Huraiji, a student of history at Kuwait University’s Faculty of Education, was disappointed to learn that the grade he received for a course—14 out of 20—was considerably lower than the grades received by two of his fellow students. The main reason for the difference appeared to be that while al-Huraiji had done his own research for an assignment, his colleagues bought their research papers.
His experience illustrates a problem that continues to concern academic staff here: the illicit but widespread business of providing academic research to students, who buy work they should be doing themselves.
“I got 14 out of 20 for research that took me a full month to finish, while Saud got 19 and Nayef got the full mark,” said al-Huraiji.
He went to his professor to complain. “I asked him why I received this grade. He said that my research did not meet the required standard, even though I did a lot of work. I did not tell him that my two colleagues who received high marks on their papers paid for their research. I did not want to embarrass them or myself.”
In university neighborhoods in Kuwait, there are shops that provide printing and photocopying services, and sometimes translation. They are licensed by the government. Some of these businesses also illegally offer academic research for students at a price that ranges from 15 to 20 Kuwaiti Dinars ($45 to $60) per page of research.
A survey of 222 Kuwait University students in five faculties (education, business and administrative sciences, law, engineering and science) found that 33 percent of students have bought research papers from these businesses.
It is difficult for professors to identify commercially obtained research.
Amal al-Ansari, professor of educational planning and management at the faculty of education at Kuwait University, learned that two of her students had bought their research papers because they admitted to it.
She said, “There is no specific punishment for the student who is found to have bought his research, and how it is dealt with varies from one professor to another.”
Khidher Baroun, professor of psychology at Kuwait University’s Faculty of Arts, said that a student submitted a research paper in an envelope showing the name, address and telephone numbers of the business that supplied the research.
Ali al-Zu’bi, professor of anthropology at Kuwait University’s Faculty of Social Sciences, said that commercially obtained research can often be detected by an unusual prose style, and by the appearance of unconnected paragraphs having been cut and pasted into the text. He said, “I remember one student presented research that included the sentence, ‘For more information, please refer to our 1961 book.’ I asked her, ‘Did you publish a book in 1961?’”
Fawaz al-Ajmi, professor of media at Kuwait University, believes that buying research is immoral and students found to be doing so should be punished. At present, a student found to have submitted non-original research for a course is given a zero grade.
The American University of Kuwait uses Turnitin, a software program which can identify text that has been plagiarized or used previously. Submitting non-original or commercially obtained research is considered cheating, according to the university’s code of conduct. (The Gulf University for Science and Technology and the Australian College of Kuwait also use Turnitin.) In Saudi Arabia, King Faisal University uses a similar plagiarism detection system called Ithenticate.
Out of eight printing and photocopying businesses in university neighborhoods in Kuwait City that were approached by Al-Fanar Media, five expressed a willingness to conduct academic research for a price. At one of the three businesses that did not offer research services, a staff member said, “We do not conduct research; the company prevents such practices.”
Research is also easily available for sale on the Internet, via social media and websites such as b7oothkw.com.
In response to complaints from the ministry of education, the Kuwait Ministry of Commerce has clamped down on such businesses from time to time, closing down some shops and forbidding them from advertising research services.
Nasir al-Mutairi, director of commercial control at the ministry of commerce, said his staff monitor shops offering research services.
“The surveillance is carried out on a daily basis,” he said. Observers “disguise themselves as students or their relatives and ask for research papers. If the office agrees to provide the work, the official will reveal their professional identity and submit a report to the police.”
“The violating business is given a two-week period to amend its status—that is, to remove the violation,” al-Mutairi said. Then the business’s office is checked in an unscheduled visit. If the offense continues, it would be considered to be violating the rules for a second time. In the case of a third violation, the office is closed and given a month to amend its status. On the fourth violation, the license would be withdrawn.
One non-punitive measure that academic staff have introduced to discourage students from submitting purchased research is to require them to present their research orally in the classroom, said Yousef al-Ibrahim, a former Kuwait minister of education and a former staff member in the faculty of administrative sciences at Kuwait University. He said that university study should “teach them how to prepare scientific research, and develop their abilities in doing so.”
“I teach my students how to write research,” said Wafaa al-Yassin, an English professor at Kuwait University’s Faculty of Arts. “We do it together during lectures, and discuss the topic. So there would be no need for students to buy the research,” she said. “Also, I give grades for how work is presented, and for presenting and discussing their research in front of fellow students.”
Al-Huraiji, the Kuwaiti student, is aware of the importance of every grade for his academic evaluation. He also knows that it is easy to get those grades by resorting to the purchase of research papers. But he absolutely declines to do so.
“Yes, I do need those grades, and yes, I feel it is unfair that my colleagues got higher grades than me, but I will never go to those offices for two reasons,” he said. “The first is about scientific honesty; how can I present research that is the product of another person’s effort? The second reason is: What if the professor asked me about what I had presented or discussed it with me? I prefer to present my own work and know every single word in it even if I got a lower grade.”