Students reading in rows at the reading room at Osmania University in Hyderabad, India in 2017.

Researchers can be sacked for plagiarizing under the new rules.Credit: Osmania Univ./Alamy

India has for the first time introduced regulations to detect and punish acts of plagiarism at universities. Punishments for researchers or students caught breaking the rules range from requiring that a manuscript be withdrawn to sacking or expulsion, depending on the extent of the plagiarism.

The regulations define plagiarism as “taking someone else’s work or idea and passing them as one’s own”, and will apply to the 867 universities and their affiliated institutions that report to the nation’s education regulator, the University Grants Commission (UGC). The UGC announced on 3 August that the rules came into effect retroactively from 23 July.

Previously, punishments for researchers caught plagiarizing were left to the discretion of the institution. The new rules also make it mandatory for institutions to use plagiarism-detection software, such as Turnitin, on students’ theses and researchers’ manuscripts. Currently, only some universities use detection software.

Several high-profile academics in India have been accused of plagiarism over the past decade.

But some researchers say the rules don’t go far enough. Kasturi Chopra, president of the Society for Scientific Values in New Delhi, which promotes ethics in science, thinks that the rules’ definition of plagiarism is too narrow. “This leaves several forms of academic misconduct, for example self-plagiarism, falsification or manipulation of data, out of its purview and covers only text plagiarism,” says Chopra. He says these kinds of misconduct are just as serious and rampant as plagiarism, and threaten scientific integrity.

Molecular biologist Nandula Raghuram says for the rules to be effective, they must apply to all institutions. As they stand, more than 100 universities and research institutions in the country that are not affiliated with the UGC will be exempt, says Raghuram, who is at the Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University in New Delhi.