A crisis of academic ethics in India – On the issue of unethical academic practices in Indian educational institutions | 31 July 2023 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the issue of unethical academic practices in Indian educational institutions.


  • GS2: Issues Relating to Development and Management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources;
  • Essay


  • India has a long history of significant contributions to intellectual pursuits and scientific research, including path-breaking work in the 20th century.
  • The country is recognized for achievements such as Bose-Einstein statistics, the Raman effect, the Ramachandran plot, and the Raychaudhuri equations.
  • Calls have been made for India to “step up” and take its position on the global stage, especially with the new National Education Policy and its presidency of the G20.
  • However, unethical academic practices are still widely tolerated in India, hindering its progress.


  • Absence of Ethical Code and Investigation Procedure:
    • Almost all academic institutions in India lack an ethical code and a robust investigation procedure to deal with misconduct allegations.
    • The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and some bio-ethics codes are welcome exceptions.
    • Suggestions to run ethical training modules for students and faculty are met with no response.
    • Academic bodies that are alerted to data manipulation and even sexual misconduct by their members make vague promises but take no action.
    • A few institutions have taken a strong principled stand, but their actions seem to have little impact on the community at large.
    • The Principal Scientific Advisor circulated a draft National Policy on Academic Ethics several years ago, but it has not been formally approved.
  • Data Manipulation and Plagiarism:
    • Data manipulation and plagiarism are two of the biggest problems in India's academic institutions.
      • Plagiarism is the act of presenting someone else's work, ideas, or images as one's own without giving proper credit to the original author or creator. It is a violation of ethical standards in scholarship.
      • Plagiarism can be deliberate or unintentional. 
      • Plagiarism is a breach of academic integrity and violates the principle of intellectual honesty.
    • Both these unethical actions are increasingly easy to carry out using software, even as journals push back with more stringent checks.
    • Perpetrators tend to shrug off responsibility and even argue that everyone in their institute is engaging in such practices.
    • They also blame their students, who may be at fault too, but are not the responsible authority.
  • Authoritarian Behaviour of Those in Power:
    • The authoritarian behaviour of those in power is another class of issues in India's academic institutions.
    • Bullying by guides is also a documented issue in India.
  • Lack of Impartial Investigation and Conflict of Interest:
    • When faced with alleged misconduct in their community, academics tend to ask “who are we to judge” instead of encouraging impartial investigation.
    • They also tend to defend the accused members of their own institutes, violating conflict-of-interest guidelines.
  • Cheating and Unethical Behaviour Among Students:
    • Cheating in exams is common among students, even in privileged institutions.
    • Brighter students believe they are “helping” their friends by cheating, while honest students are reluctant to call out cheating for fear of being disloyal.
    • The academic culture in India is globally perceived as dishonest, which harms the chances of Indian students to compete globally.
    • A Japanese professor mentioned that if a student in his university tried to cheat, the students would immediately put a stop to it, highlighting the role of culture.
  • Lack of Quality Leadership:
    • In developed countries, academic leaders are seen as equals who have taken on administrative responsibilities, while in India, the position is primarily seen as a source of power and control.
    • The reluctance of leaders to act on ethical issues may stem from the fear of losing control and being found culpable of misconduct themselves.
    • There have been documented cases of vice-chancellors being found to be plagiarists, but not all of them have been appropriately punished.
  • Need for Change in Academic Leadership:
    • India needs a different type of behaviour from its academic leaders to address the ethics problem, which is in the national interest.
    • Institutions must take ethics seriously and not tolerate deliberate misconduct.
    • Clear communication and training in expected ethical standards are necessary.
  • Hypersensitivity to Perceived Challenges and Violation of Constitutional Rights:
    • Institutional heads who are complacent about ethical misconduct are often quick to respond if there is any perceived challenge to themselves or their bosses.
    • Indian faculty have faced charge-sheets for simply expressing their opinions, which is a violation of constitutional rights.
    • This has a crippling effect on academic research, as the space for independent thinking shrinks.
    • When leaders tolerate academic fraud but become hypersensitive to perceived slights to power, it indicates a deviation from ethical and academic foundations.

Way Forward:

  • Without a sea change in the attitude of academic leadership, there is little chance of talented young researchers choosing India over greener pastures abroad that are both more ethical and freer. Ultimately India’s future as a research powerhouse will be compromised, tragically just at the time that the country is being seen as an emerging power.

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