The Law on Academic Integrity an important step forward, but it is necessary to prescribe the responsibility of mentors

The Centre for Civic Education (CCE) welcomes the fact that the Government of Montenegro adopted the Proposal of the Law on Academic Integrity. This is a unique legal text not only in the region but wider as well, and it represents a response to the practice that the CCE had pointed out for years advocating for more efficient legislative and institutional framework.

The Law introduces series of substantial provisions in whose drafting the CCE took part within membership in Working group, and we will continue to monitor its implementation.

However, we note with regret that the opportunity to adequately regulate important issue on the liability of mentor, when it comes to plagiarism, was missed. And exactly that would give to this law a stronger preventive character.

The Law defines academic integrity as academic behavior that ensures preservation of academic honour, dignity of profession, quality of work and work products, spirit of co-operation with all the participants in the academic process on equal footing, focus on truth as a fundamental value and respect of legal regulations as the basis of responsibility of the members of the academic community, i.e. all forms of behavior in accordance with the principles of academic integrity. It prescribes the basic principles and forms of violation of academic integrity, with focus on plagiarism, forms of plagiarism, as well as other forms of violation of academic integrity, such as student fraud.

The law stipulates establishment of Ethics Committee, appointed by the Government of Montenegro, for the purpose of processing violation of academic integrity. Its tasks will encompass activities such as: adoption and monitoring of the implementation of Ethics Charter; promotion of the principles of academic integrity; deciding upon proposal to establish violation of academic integrity for Montenegrin citizens whose work has been published or who acquired qualifications outside of Montenegro; producing opinion on regulations and initiatives regarding academic ethics; submitting to the Government of Montenegro annual work report, etc. This Law also recognizes ethics committees at the level of higher education institutions in Montenegro, which will be first-instance bodies within cases of violation of academic integrity.

For all works presented at the higher education Institution in Montenegro, the responsibility for responding on the proposal to establish violation of academic integrity belongs to the institution. One of the novelties is also the signing of an ethical statement by the author of the work (scientific workers, i.e teachers and associates, all master and doctoral students), and the same statement is also signed during the process of advancement within academic titles. Furthermore, an obligation to authenticate the master’s and doctoral thesis is also introduced, while graduate papers are subject of review procedure in accordance with the rules of the institution.

However, the Law practically ignored the responsibilty of mentors for the development and credibility of academic papers by providing only general provision that obliges mentors to monitor the work of the candidate respecting the principles of the academic integrity in line with the rules of the institution. Thus, mentors – who are obliged to teach students and to be with them during the entire process of research development of academic papers – are abolished from responsibility if the work is not in accordance with academic rules.

The CCE proposed the following provision: A mentor whose candidate is proven to have plagiarized the work will be publicly named in the next Bulletin of the Institution with limitation of his/her mentorship for at least one academic year to maximum four academic years, depending on the gravity of the violation. This decision was sharply rejected by representatives of the academic community in the Working group, and the final version of the adopted proposal at the Government session indicates that the Government also stood behind the protection of mentors without any justification. This also raises the following questions: Does this mean that our professors are not competent to be mentors without fear that their candidate may plagiarize works, or is this planned neglect with which mentors interact with candidates and their work, why does the Government protect an approach in which members of the academic community do not want to take even the minimum responsibility for their current work?

The CCE is strongly committed to the prevention and repression of the violation of all principles of academic integrity, and in particular of the plagiarism. In many aspects, we see this Law as the crown of our efforts to regulate this field, in accordance with the legal framework of Montenegro that will produce adequate effects and contribute to the improvement of the quality of higher education.

We hope that the MPs of the Parliament of Montenegro will acknowledge the proposal of the CCE and oblige the mentors to work more thoroughly with the students, which will lay the foundation for the prevention of plagiarism and other forms of violation of academic rules.

Mira Popović, Programme associate