Saturday, February 21, 2009

German student thrown out of college for plagiarism

A student of business at the University of Münster submitted his final thesis in 2007. The professors - using software - found numerous passages that were not quoted at all or were improperly quoted. They decided to fail the student.

He went to court, and Germany being Germany, it has taken almost 2 years for his day in court to come. As the WDR reports, the student lost his case. The judge decided that the university was correct in failing the student. The university system has threatened to levy fines (a dubious proposition) in the past, but in this case is not planning on trying that, a wise decision.

This is the first case in Germany of which I am aware in which a university has won a plagiarism case against a student. Usually the universities are ordered to give the student another chance instead of exmatriculating them.

Three cheers for the University of Münster with the courage to go to court on this one!


  1. Hm. One one hand, yes, he deserved it. That was also my first reaction when I read it on Spiegel online.

    But on the other hand, next to nothing happens to plagiarizing professors at German universities and it does seem a bit unfair to be so much harsher with the students.

    Another example: The use of 'ghostwriting agencies', where students pay someone to write their theses, is of course considered cheating and forbidden, and rightly so. But when a professor has his assistant - paid for with taxpayer's money - write textbook chapters for him, this is accepted, at least in Darmstadt.

  2. Plagiarism by professors is indeed a grave problem - but is no excuse for students to plagiarize as well. Two wrongs don't make a right.

    I am working hard in the area of raising consciousness about the former problem. I now regularly include a few slides about the problem in my lectures on plagiarism for colleagues.

    I also wrote to the Minister for Research about the problem, but her house insists that the scientific community must sort this out.

    I need more brave people to let me know when their work has been blatantly plagiarized. I help them file formal complaints with the "Ombud für gute wissenschaftliche Praxis" that every university and college in Germany must have. Some are extremely effective, some drag their feet, but the more letters that come and the more work they have to do, the more discussion about plagiarism we will have.

  3. The above comment is blogspam from a plagiarism detection "service" that I caught re-selling the services of another company without permission in my 2007 test. The company has changed its name, but that's about all.

    And software can only detect copies, not plagiarism. We need more education about scientific writing and avoiding plagiarism, not more plagiarism detection software.

  4. I need to understand. If a student submitted a thesis paper, and it was corrected and this person graduated. Can this student get in trouble if there is overwhelming and confirmed evidence of not writing the entire thesis?

  5. If it is only a bachelor's degree or a master's, and less than five years have passed, yes. Students can lose their first degrees retroactively for up to five years in Germany. These theses are then destroyed, not published, so there is no evidence after that. A doctorate is published, and thus available without a time limit for examination and decision on whether or not it is a plagiarism and if the degree is to be revoked.