“It was a small makeshift stall at a market inside University of Peshawar (UoP); I was shocked when the photocopier handed over a list of available ready-made theses on around 30 topics.” Akhtar Shah* tells the story of how a student can obtain a ‘thesis of choice’ without doing any of the heavy lifting associated with research.
It would seem the UoP has become the top destination for those studying abroad – particularly in European universities – to buy these dissertations, The Express Tribune learnt. At a steal, each research paper can cost anything from Rs900 to Rs1,200. The price varies according to the number of pages or whether the work is bought in the form of a softcopy or in print.
Though it is their work, the second-hand dissertations are not being sold by UoP students themselves. The long-distance business is an ‘initiative’ taken by word composers and photocopiers in UoP shops.
This is how it works: A UoP student gives the composer his work to either type out on a computer or to format the softcopy according to guidelines. The ‘enterprising’ composer adds the dissertation to his secret cache and returns the USB or the formatted thesis back. Friends of students in other countries approach composers in UoP, fork out cash and walk away with a ready-to-print thesis to ship off (or email) to their friend. As Shah explained the dummy’s guide to plagiarism, he admits he recently purchased and sent two such research works to his friend in Norway.
Shah says one of his college’s friends was completing his master’s degree in economics from a Norwegian University when he contacted Shah via Skype six months ago, giving him three possible topics for his final thesis.
“He told me he was working and studying which made it hard to find time to research. Above all, many final research papers in European universities make their way online – in an academic journal or paper. In such a scenario, it is likely that any attempt of plagiarism will be caught when supervisors run the plagiarism software. It’s a bad idea to try and pass off their work as an ‘original thesis’.”
Some people copy the entire thesis for duplication and others just take a chapter or two. Composers will charge less for the latter,” says Shah.
“I saved a soft copy (of the thesis) in my USB and emailed it to my friend. It was so easy, anyone can go get a copy of a research paper in their desired research subject without any fear of being caught.”
One of the photocopiers in this business explains when UoP students bring in their work on a USB and ask for a print, he just copies the file on the computer for sale later.
“Students come and ask for a list of what is available. We show them the list, and they place an order,” the shopkeeper says, requesting anonymity. “It’s not just me – dozens of other photocopiers and composers have been doing this and no one has so far told us that we are doing something wrong or illegal.”
Officials from the UoP Central Library claim they do not allow people to copy dissertations which are archived at the library. Students are allowed to sit and read, but they cannot check out the bounded copy, they say.
Students in international universities used to contact lecturers in Pakistani universities, asking them to pen their thesis but at a steep price – Rs70,000 to Rs80,000, however, this is thing of the past, insists one library official, wishing to remain unnamed.
“We have sent 500 MPhil and PhD dissertations to the Higher Education Commission to upload online to help prevent plagiarism, but many bachelor’s and master’s theses are already knock-offs. We need software which catches plagiarized work.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities
Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2014.