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What do the principles of academic integrity and research integrity mean to Japanese university staff, and how does this impact their educational and research practices? It’s a timely question for a rapidly evolving research landscape with renewed focus on the accuracy and trustworthiness of research output.
It’s also the motivation for Turnitin Japan’s commissioned research study, which surveyed the awareness of Japanese university staff of academic and research integrity. Conducted in December 2021, and based on a sample of 300 university staff members from Japanese universities, the quantitative survey sought to determine the following: understandings of academic integrity (AI) and research integrity (RI) and how this was affected by discipline type, approaches to integrity-based policies, resources and training, uptake of plagiarism detection tools, and attitudes to online learning more generally.
It is hoped that the findings of this survey will shine a light on the state of academic and research integrity awareness and application in Japan’s higher degree education sector, and help inform future strategies to curb both inadvertent and deliberate misconduct and safeguard the responsible conduct of research.
Mindful that Western-centric definitions of academic integrity and research integrity have a comparatively recent history in Japanese institutions, our research sought to distinguish between ‘awareness’ and ‘understanding’, to yield a nuanced picture of attitudes and adoption of these concepts by Japanese university staff. We define academic integrity as: “a commitment, even in the face of adversity, to six fundamental values: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage”. We define research integrity as “the principles and standards that have the purpose to ensure validity and trustworthiness of research.”
Here’s a high-level summary of what we discovered:
Following the analysis of results, it was revealed that awareness of academic integrity and research integrity together (including those who reported having heard of the issues but not understanding them) accounted for 39.3% of all survey respondents. Respondents’ institution size presented very little variance.
On the other hand, overall levels of perceived understanding of academic integrity and research integrity issues amongst the total number survey recipients were low, recorded at 24% for academic integrity and 30% for research integrity, respectively.
Alongside this, a large distinction was found in the context of research integrity, in the subset of respondents who identified as ‘actively publishing researchers’, defined as those who have written one or more papers within the academic year and have used a plagiarism check tool. This group exhibited a higher perceived understanding or research integrity compared to the total, at 55%.
These are significant findings and form the foundation of our analysis and evaluation of the state of academic and research integrity in Japan, as represented by our study sample. They signify the extent to which these principles are not fully understood, and highlight how awareness has not yet reached a majority status amongst Japanese university staff. Furthermore, it indicates that much more work is required from both an awareness and understanding perspective, to mitigate risks and frequency of academic and research misconduct, plus align with global expectations in this area.
Although institution size did not account for any meaningful variance in our research, the field of study did impart a discernible difference. The data show that 27.9% of respondents from the Natural Sciences (NS) and 28.3% from the Social Sciences (SS) said that they had “heard of and understood the meaning of academic integrity” compared with only 16.7% of respondents from the Humanities (HM).
This means that respondents who identify as NS and SS researchers are 1.67 and 1.69 times (respectively) more likely to say they are aware of and understand the concepts than respondents from HM fields. Or in other words, NS and SS researchers are almost 70% more likely to understand AI issues than HM researchers.
This is not altogether surprising, given the arguably greater emphasis placed on research rigour in the NS and SS fields compared to the humanities, owing to their associated outputs and scrutiny - research commercialisation, for example. The implication one can draw here is that academic and research integrity training is not issued uniformly beyond students’ first year of study, and that a more inclusive approach to cover an entire university ecosystem is in order.
Another key factor that influenced perception of academic and research integrity amongst respondents was exposure to online courses on the subject. In relation to academic integrity, those who had participated in online courses saw a change in perception either drastically or somewhat, by 54.2%. When it comes to research integrity, online courses lead to a change in perception either drastically or somewhat, by 42.3%.
Having established a benchmark for awareness and understanding of academic and research integrity amongst our respondents, we turned our attention to their knowledge of academic integrity policies at their institutions.
41% of respondents who said they had heard of academic integrity were unsure whether their institution had academic integrity guidelines, whereas 43.5% reported that their institutions did have academic integrity guidelines in place. Two possible implications from this data are that academic integrity policies and provisions are not embedded in institutional frameworks to a particularly high degree in Japan, and/or their uptake by higher degree researchers is limited; imploring more education and promotion of such guidelines.
More encouragingly, 50% of respondents who reported understanding academic integrity issues said that their institutions were taking steps to incorporate academic integrity training into student learning. It suggests that once understanding is reached on academic integrity principles, there is perceived value and actual follow-through to uphold them in students’ and researchers’ work, via training on guidelines.
That being said, half of respondents could not identify academic integrity training efforts. This illustrates the need to bridge the gap between acknowledgement of the importance of these principles and direct action to anchor them within institutional policy.
Delving further into the question of how academic and research integrity training opportunities unfold, let’s look at the subset of respondents who indicated that their institution does maintain guidelines for academic integrity. We asked respondents to classify the types of tools and resources that are employed at their institution to underpin academic and research integrity training.
At a high level, in the context of academic integrity training, two main takeaways emerged. Firstly, 67% of respondents who said that their institutions had established guidelines for academic integrity, said that academic integrity issues were addressed in study sessions. Secondly, 35% of respondents who said that their institution has established guidelines for academic integrity said that academic integrity issues were incorporated into the curriculum.
At a high level, in the context of research integrity training, two corresponding insights were identified. Firstly, 70% of respondents who said that their institution had established guidelines for research integrity said that RI issues were addressed in study sessions. Secondly, 29% of respondents who said that their institution had established guidelines for research integrity said that research integrity issues were incorporated into the curriculum.
Unpacking the allocated training further, use of traditional, passive formats such as posters, leaflets and website content was identified by respondents across both categories, as well as more collaborative, immersive approaches in the form of study group sessions. Encouragingly, the data points to a decent level of formalisation of academic integrity and research integrity training in institutions’ official curriculum and further proactive training in the study groups; though there is of course room for improvement.
As incidents of research misconduct gain increasing notoriety in the Japanese academic community (and indeed across the world), we also sought to gauge university staff perceptions of reputational damage as part of our study. We discovered that 85% of survey respondents across all career stages and institutions said they were ‘concerned’ or ‘very concerned’ about the threat of reputational damage from research misconduct. Despite this, only 54% of respondents who answered that they have both heard of and understand research integrity said that they were implementing measures to create an environment that adequately supports research integrity.
This data indicates a disconnect between reported values and practices when it comes to managing reputational risk, with a 46% shortfall by those respondents lacking measures to tackle research integrity. It evokes a critical question: what more can be done to address institutional blind spots and areas of vulnerability for researchers in order to safeguard both individual and institutional reputation? It’s fair to say that the onus cannot lie solely on researchers, who appear eager to embrace support structures at an institutional level to assist with research due diligence and risk mitigation.
One strategy of addressing reputational risk is the use of technology-enabled tools to empower researchers during the research-writing process and in preparation for submission and publishing. We wanted to know if survey respondents exhibited familiarity or willingness to engage with tools that detect text similarity for the purpose of plagiarism avoidance and reputational management.
The findings revealed that only one-fifth of respondents who are actively publishing research reported using these ‘plagiarism detection’ tools.
The minority 20% of respondents indicating use is at odds with the aforementioned concerns of reputational damage, and warrants a further look at why such edtech solutions do not have higher adoption rate in Japan’s higher education system, factoring in preferences, understanding and accessibility.
Finally, we explored attitudes to online learning practices more generally, to paint a picture of Japan’s engagement with digital education delivery as represented by this study sample.
Overall, sentiment around continuation of online versus in-person learning was fairly evenly distributed. 54% of respondents from national public universities and 68% of respondents from regional public universities said they ’somewhat’ or ’strongly desired’ to continue online classes. Interestingly, there was more support for online learning from these two subsets compared to respondents at private universities, who recorded a swing in the other direction, with 57% in favour of discontinuing online classes.
Possible reasons for this attitudinal split between private and public universities are that private institutions tend to have a more personalised approach to their service offering, which has ramifications on flexibility and workloads, plus falling student retention rates during Covid-19 restrictions introduced an elevated financial risk component for such providers.
In terms of what else may be influencing remaining resistance to online learning across the board, is our finding that the overwhelming majority of respondents (87%) said that moving to online learning had either ‘greatly’ or ‘somewhat’ increased the burden of grading and the provision of feedback. Hence, an important task at hand is finding ways for Japanese research staff and educators to better harness technology to facilitate education in the digital age, not to mention assisting them in safeguarding academic and research integrity principles.
In conclusion, refocusing efforts on boosting awareness and understanding of academic and research integrity is critical to securing the quality of Japan’s research output, the career preparedness of research staff, and the preservation of institutions’ reputation both domestically and on the international stage. This snapshot of our research study demonstrates that despite encouraging signs of academic and research integrity taking root, there is still much to be done.
Special thanks to Akabana Consulting for their contribution to this research project as our data analysis partner.
The above data is only a snapshot of our research results. To see the entirety of our research findings, please contact us to organise a presentation.
If you’re looking to preserve integrity during the research-writing process, check out our research integrity solution, iThenticate