Busted! Academic Integrity and Plagiarism in South Korea


It comes as no surprise that the problem of plagiarism is once again back in the headlines in South Korea. With the outing of Korean actress, Kim, Hye-Soo, the radio personality Kim, Mi-Hwa, and the comedian Kim, Mi-Kung, Korea it seems has almost made a sport out of the repetitive rotation of abasing high-profile celebrities and public officials followed closely by their obligatory public admission and apology. This problem is persistent, even in the face of anemic stop-gap policies adopted by Korean education institutions nationwide over recent years.

The recent revelations of the three women aforementioned and the endless parade of other distinguished personalities that have inspired this closer look at why the problem of plagiarism in South Korea has persisted. The question being asked now is, ‘is this problem of plagiarism a cultural relative morality misunderstanding or just a case of academic defiance and indifference to the integrity of higher education?’.

Generally speaking there are indeed a number of reasons why students may seem to be or are indeed cheating. Some of these means are not in fact reasons why, but rather how. In researching this article, some studies or other articles have argued that the high rate of Internet connectivity has led to the increased rates of direct and mosaic plagiarism. This may be how some students have been able to increase the efficacy of pirating someone else’s intellectual property, but it is suspect to conclude that this is both the how and why accused students have resigned to such licentious acts of intellectual dishonesty. It is worth noting though, ironically South Korea has one of the highest rates of Internet connectivity in the world. Though the link between Internet connectivity and plagiarism as a result is speculative and isn’t believed to be causal but more likely coincidental (though further research on this would be interesting).

Cultural Differences and Relative Morality

When considering why there appears to be an increased rate of plagiarism, one must first consider the cultural and institutional differences present in Korean society. What factors may lead to a student to plagiarize that are different than perhaps Western cultures and students? In researching possible causes for the high rate of academic dishonesty in Korea, a few possible causes stood out. The first is the competitive nature within the education system in Korea. Students are driven to succeed from an early age and to both obtain a coveted seat at a prestigious university, and to graduate and land a position at a respectable firm upon the completion of university. The next probable cause of this epidemic is a general moral apathy among institutions, professors, and students to the appropriation and theft of others’ work.

Korean academic society had not applied strict standards on plagiarism because it has been busy importing and translating foreign theories into Korea. At the time, plagiarism was not a big issue here and nobody complained about it.

Kwack, Dong-Chul, Cheongju University (excerpt taken from Kim, Jae-Won’s article “Leniency Breeds Plagiarism” in The Korea Times published March 13th, 2013)

Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea

At many schools, professors report ‘ignoring plagiarism of graduate students and even fellow colleagues’. Korea seems to place a high value on the quantity of and the completion of work, perhaps at the cost of academic integrity.

According to a survey of 600 professors by Kyosu Shinmoon, 23.7 percent of the respondents said they pretend they are unaware of plagiarism when they detect evidence of the unethical practice in their colleagues’ work. This is an increase of more five-times from 4 percent recorded in a 2001 survey.  (Bak, Eun-Ji / The Korea Times)

While the pressure university students feel transcends national boundaries, the stress is perhaps even higher in Korea and time is always very limited. This may be a trigger (not a rationalization) of why some may use work from others and claim it as their own. With forgiving educators and professors, no system in place to detect plagiarism, and a general apathy to acquiring intellectual property from others, this appears to be a perfect storm and an environment ideal for plagiarists.

Korea’s moral ‘flexibility’ over academic (dis)honesty and integrity extends beyond just copying and pasting research and journals from other authors, it is often witnessed in the annual SAT scandals that emerge each year in cities large and small, nationwide.

Duke University’s Center for Academic Integrity, recognize academic integrity as “a commitment, even in the face of adversity, to five fundamental values: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility”.

Creating an Environment of Ethical Behaviour and Academic Integrity

From the earliest ages, very little attention is given to academic integrity during class-time and is absent from the current national curriculum. Teachers are neither required to dedicate time to instructing their students on the immorality of submitting someone else’s work, nor do many feel the need to. The average Korean teacher is committed to a large class sizes, never-ending assignments, and administrative paperwork for the school, leaving little time to ensure that their students’ work is original and to deviate from the nationally prescribe educational curriculum.


It is likely, that in Korea, unless a particular case of plagiarism is glaring, that the teacher will be unlikely to address it with the school’s administration and/or the parents of the accused. By the time the pupil has reached university, certain ‘cultural indulgences’ have allowed themselves to be ingrained and with professors turning a blind-eye, so to speak, and a poor academic culture, students could feel that this practice is acceptable.

Assignment Variation

There exists a common failure by educators and professors in institutions everywhere to adapt from year to year and create new and unique assignments, thus allowing students to peer-plagiarize and for them to be able to easily find other sources to copy from. This problem also exists in Korea.

Institutional Inconsistencies

Full disclosure, attempting to research the policies for plagiarism for this part of the article was difficult as most universities do not make public their treatment of students who have been accused or found to have plagiarized work. Most of what is to follow is purely anecdotal from asking professors in different institutions around Korea.

Most universities appear to have different policies with regard to students who have been found to be plagiarizing class work and graduate thesis’. Some school expect or subtly but strongly suggest that they withdraw their submitted work and leave the program and other universities ‘deal with the matter internally’ (whatever that may mean).

In resolving this problem that exists here in Korea schools and universities first need to identify copied work and then have policies in place to adequately deal with offenders. From all the research done for this article, universities and educational authorities are failing in both.

UPDATE: Seoul National University recently introduced a system to detect plagiarism however it’s scope and application is very limited and will not be introduced until next year.

Other schools are choosing to completely ignore the problem for fear that even an acknowledgement that some of the past or current students are plagiarist will damage the institution as a whole. In contrast, many schools in the U.K. the U.S. and Canada have decided to get tough on this problem and many see that as actually bolstering the reputation of those particular universities. A point completely lost on university administrations a board regents here in South Korea.

For South Korea to become a destination for those seeking a superior education and a degree from an globally recognized institution, universities and educators need to reform the education culture. From a young age they must educate children on the impropriety of pirating another’s intellectual property. A climate shift from the current societal predisposition to indifferently re-appropriate the work of others to something that is more respectful and honourable must be desired. Finally, the fundamental role of universities in Korea must be redefined as less of a post-high school trade school to a place of true higher learning, intellectual experimentation, and discussion.


http://www.http://longzijun.wordpress.com. Plagiarism: Questions about Copying, Culture and Consequences, June 23, 2010

Howard, Rebecca Moore. “Standing in the Shadow of Giants: Plagiarists, Authors, Collaborators” Cultural Perspectives (INTERNET) 1999

http://www.blog.writecheck.com. Are Foreign Students More Prone to Plagiarism? October 20, 2011

Jon Marcus, (October 6, 2011). Foreign Student Rule-Breaking: Culture Clash or Survival Skills (Online) Available archive https://blog.writecheck.com/2011/10/20/are-foreign-students-more-prone-to-plagiarism/

Roache-Fedchenko, Amy S. An Air of Integrity: Building a Preventative Classroom Environment New York: Syracuse University (Date Unknown)

One response to “Busted! Academic Integrity and Plagiarism in South Korea

  1. Pingback: The Potential of Thought: A Reflection on Plagiarism in South Korea | SEOULfi·

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