Academic Writing and the Reality in Universities: A Review of Academics’ Voices
This review is based on the interview which was published in April 2018 issue of ELTChoutari. Ashok Raj Khati, one of the editors of http://eltchoutari.com/ has explored significant ideas on academic writing from the interaction with scholars working in different universities of Nepal. The structured interview is centred on the university programmes which provide students with opportunities for learning skills of academic writing. It also highlights research and writing culture in the universities and publication habit of academics in their profession. The interview also raises the issue of plagiarism in Nepali academia.
The majority of academics in this interview emphasise that the formal courses they have in their universities can develop students’ academic writing skills. However, Khadka, Chairperson of English Subject Committee at Mid-Western University, Nepal, values the ELT club of students, which is a community of learning, to develop their writing skills. Students’ participation and presentation of their writing in seminars and conferences are highly focused by Gnawali and Ojha. Teachers’ feedback on students’ writing is focused to improve writing skills. However, developing students’ academic writing skills is a challenging job of university teachers in Nepali universities where the majority of students enrolled in English education come from government high schools. The students learn the English language in their schools as a subject among other subjects. Nevertheless, Negi doubts the scholarly qualification of university teachers and their learning and teaching habits who lack broad academic knowledge and extensively use diary notes to deliver lectures instead of teaching skills. Gaulee criticises university teachers for not providing feedback on students’ writing. He suggests the teachers need to value their salary for teaching life skills for students but not just for grading their level.
The academics in the interview highlight plagiarism in the works of academics and postgraduate students as a serious concern and a major issue in academic discussions in universities. Gnawali presumes that scholars plagiarise in their scholarly writing generally for two reasons: an intention to get quick promotion and lack of knowledge about how to acknowledge the sources. And the lack of enforcement of the law against the academic crime seems to be a loophole to allow the growth of plagiarism. Negi suggests the use of software to prevent plagiarism and discourage such activities in the authorship of academic publications. I believe that the academics’ arguments, ideas and suggestions signpost the demand for reformation in Nepali university programmes, the need for international standard academic writing and the development of research culture and publication.
The issues raised in the interview and the suggestions made to improve academic writings and publications in Nepal are genuine and significant if academics realise these in their professional activities. I reiterate the ideas of Gnawali and Gaulee that the honesty in knowledge and fair in sharing ideas in all kinds of academic publications should come first before thinking about earning money. However, the academic practice in Nepali universities is still based on Gurukul tradition, where chela (learners) just follow what their Guru (teacher) says. This culture is well maintained in academic writing and publications too. University lecturers and even professors compile contents from several sources based on the syllabus to prepare a book, author the book and insist undergraduate and postgraduate students to purchase their publications. None of such publications is ethical as the authors copy and paste contents without acknowledging the sources. Such publications are not standard because the information gathered in them is neither genuine nor authentic.
So far I know that the majority of standard journal articles and books in international academia are voluntarily written, reviewed and published, although few publishers charge little amount of money to cover the cost of press and distribution. Academics in Nepal need to learn about it and transform themselves before thinking to bring change in academic activities. Except rare recent graduates from local and international universities, who have been working hard to transform piracy academic culture to research-based original publication system in Nepali academia, the majority of university academics need to learn tangible academic skills and reflect their both soft and hard academic skills. Soft skills refer to social skills such as honesty in acknowledgement, fairness in information and unbiased criticality and hard skills refer to writing skills such as selection of academic language, organisation of ideas and presentation of information in an article or a book chapter.
Dr. Rana is associated with School of Teacher Education, College of Education, Health and Human Development, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand