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Russian citizens to place theses on Internet

February 18, 2013, 23:39 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

The scandal with plagiarism in writing theses that has been raging in Russia for several months now has brought forth a response in the upper tiers of the government.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Monday instructed the government to work out, by March 31, the rule of placing theses on the Internet. The Russian Science Ministry’s commission that inspects the Thesis Board at the Moscow Pedagogical State University has earlier made a statement on numerous cases of thesis falsification at the University.

Medvedev backed the drive for bringing to light fake theses. “The number of fake candidates and doctors of science is just mind-boggling. I see nothing bad in the fact that this theme has now come to light. This is absolutely proper, as academic degrees and titles will be utterly discredited if science continues taking this road,” the premier said.

The scandal with plagiarism in theses will apparently soon lead to serious changes in the work of the State Commission for Academic Degrees and Titles (VAK). Open discussion of theses on the Internet several months before they are defended will be one of the measures against plagiarism in candidate’s and doctor’s theses, Vladimir Filippov, the recently appointed VAK chief, said in a broadcast on radio Echo of Moscow on Sunday.

“We will now make obligatory serious measures for preliminary discussion of theses by the entire academic community,” Filippov said.

He said not only the abstract but also the full text of a thesis will be placed on the Internet prior to it being defended.

Theses for a candidate’s degree will be posted on the web at least four weeks before the defense and theses for a doctor’s degree three months prior to it. There will be some sort of a forum to discuss the theses, to make remarks to be taken into consideration at the defense of the theses.

VAK is to restore a ten-year period for re-examining theses. This period is currently only three years. After the lapse of this time a thesis cannot be checked for plagiarism.

The scandal in the academic world broke out last year when graduates of the Kholmogorov Mathematical School suspected its new Director Andrei Andriyanov of incompetence. The fact that Andriyanov, a certified chemist, defended a thesis on history caught their attention. It was established that this thesis contained a multitude of lapses, including referenced to publications in nonexistent journals.

This case caused repercussions in the mass media and among the bloggers, after which Andriyanov vacated his post and the Education and Science Ministry decided to check other suspicious- looking works, including those based on information from open sources.

The Science Ministry’s Commission discovered 25 fake theses defended at Moscow Pedagogical State University (19 doctor’s theses and 6 candidate’s theses). In this connection, the entire leadership of one of the theses boards at a history educational institution was replaced.

A list of boards that awarded too many academic degrees was compiled. As a result of the campaign to spot fake theses, VAK stripped eleven people, including Andriyanov, of their academic degrees.

There are quite a lot of officials among the holders of academic degrees to be annulled. Their theses contained plagiarism, references to nonexistent publications in journals, as well as forged endorsements by higher educational institutions.

The scandal coincided in time with the arrest of former VAK chief Felix Shamkhalov, suspected of fraud involving a bank loan of 1.5 billion rubles. Vladimir Filippov, the Rector of Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia, one-time education minister, replaced him on the post.

Meanwhile bloggers continue their effort to expose fake theses. They have just found plagiarism in the abstract of a doctor’s thesis defended by Igor Lebedev, State Duma Deputy Speaker, the son of Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Lebedev, who has been in parliament since 1999 and headed the LDPR faction in various years, defended a doctor’s thesis in history in 2006 on the theme “Evolution of Ideological Fundamentals and Strategy of Political Parties of the Russian Federation in 1992-2003”. This thesis, bloggers assert, looks suspiciously similar to the candidate’s thesis by Mikhail Kornev on the theme “Dominant Factors of Party Development in Contemporary Russia” defended in 2005.

MPs from United Russia Vladimir Buramtov, Rishat Abubakirov and Nikolai Bulayev were caught at plagiarism earlier but they were not stripped of their doctor’s degrees. VAK does not consider such matters three years since the degrees were awarded.

A cursory glance of official data on the number of theses defended makes one think that these cases are nothing exceptional, the newspaper Vedomosti writes. “A large share of candidate’s and doctor’s degrees in a number of specialties is of minor academic value or outright fakes,” the newspaper asserts.

According to official information, 22,438 diplomas of candidate’s of science were issued in Russia in 2011, double the number as compared with 1995. Humanitarian specialties mainly account for this growth. It was the largest among the fashionable specialties carrying a high social status: law (250 theses in 1995 and 1,195 in 2011, a growth of 380 percent), economics (871 in 1995 and 3,930 in 2007, a growth of 350 percent), and political sciences (56 and 410, increase of 630 percent). For comparison: the number of diplomas in physics and mathematics that carried a smaller social prestige (at least ten years ago) grew by only 20 percent (from 1,059 to 1,233).

The same trend is seen in doctor’s theses: while the number of new doctor’s of sciences in physics and mathematics has increased insignificantly in 16 years (from 344 to 346), it grew 170 percent (from 156 to 426) in economics.

Experts express the hope that the situation must start changing now.