Plagiarism as an epistemological obstacle:

Mainland Chinese students’ development of academic integrity in the transition from Chinese undergraduate to UK Master’s programmes

Stephen Gow


The internationalisation of higher education has led to an unprecedented global student migration. As the major minority on anglophone campuses around the globe, students from Mainland China provide a case study of high use-value for the study of academic adjustment, particularly academic integrity. Historically, Chinese learners have been singled out for attention in relation to the problematic concept of plagiarism (Bloch, 2012). This study explores the epistemological understanding of academic integrity by Mainland Chinese Master’s students in two UK universities using inductive data analysis of five focus groups. Utilizing Baxter-Magolda’s epistemological reflection model (1992) for reference, the participants’ perceptions of their academic development charted a journey from “absolute knowing” to “independent” and “contextual” approaches to knowledge. From this perspective, a “right and wrong” examination background in China poses a significant epistemological obstacle to the understanding of plagiarism, citation and research. In the transition to research-based essay assessment in the UK (Carroll, 2008), the participants must not only deal with multiple, unfamiliar academic texts in a second language; they must also switch their approach to knowledge. These finding support the holistic approach to academic integrity (Bretag et al., 2013), rather than the predominantly moralistic and proceduralist (Kaposi and Dell, 2013) discourses in higher education.

This paper was submitted to the International Integrity & Plagiarism Conference which ran between 2004-2014. The paper was peer reviewed by an independent editorial board and features in the conference proceedings.