A Plagiarism Scandal Rocks Norway's Government

Research and Education Minister Sandra Borch attends a press conference, in Oslo, Norway, Jan. 19, 2024, where she announced that she is resigning as a minister. The plagiarism scandal began with students in some of Norway’s elite schools being suspended for recycling parts of their own work. It has turned into a scandal that could topple two government ministers. Sandra Borch, the Center Party minister for research and higher education, resigned last week after tracts of her masters thesis, including spelling mistakes, were copied without attribution from a different author. (Rodrigo Freitas/NTB via AP)
Research and Education Minister Sandra Borch attends a press conference, in Oslo, Norway, Jan. 19, 2024, where she announced that she is resigning as a minister. The plagiarism scandal began with students in some of Norway’s elite schools being suspended for recycling parts of their own work. It has turned into a scandal that could topple two government ministers. Sandra Borch, the Center Party minister for research and higher education, resigned last week after tracts of her masters thesis, including spelling mistakes, were copied without attribution from a different author. (Rodrigo Freitas/NTB via AP)
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STAVANGER, Norway (AP) — The specter of academic plagiarism — a hot topic in the U.S. — has now reached the heart of Norwegian politics, toppling one government minister and leaving a second fighting for her political career.

Sandra Borch, Norway’s minister for research and higher education, resigned last week after a business student in Oslo discovered that tracts of Borch's master's thesis, including spelling mistakes, were copied without attribution from a different author.

The student, 27-year-old Kristoffer Rytterager, got upset about Borch’s zealous approach to punishing academic infractions: After several students fought cases of “self-plagiarism” — where they lifted whole sections from their own previous work— and were acquitted in lower courts, the minister for higher education took them to the Supreme Court of Norway.

“Students were being expelled for self-plagiarism. I got angry and I thought it was a good idea to check the minister’s own work,” Rytterager told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Rytterager, who studies at the BI Business School in Oslo, said he found several tracts that were suspiciously well written, and discovered they were not her own words. On Friday, the media followed up Rytterager’s posts on X, formerly Twitter, and published his discoveries. Borch resigned the same day.

“When I wrote my master's thesis around 10 years ago I made a big mistake," she told Norwegian news agency NTB. “I took text from other assignments without stating the sources.”

The revelations put the academic history of other politicians in the crosshairs and by the weekend several newspapers were describing inconsistencies in the work of Health Minister Ingvild Kjerkol. She blamed “editing errors” for similarities between her own academic work and that of other authors.

The revelations have put pressure on Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, who leads a center-left coalition government of his own Labor party and the junior Center Party.

He accepted Borch’s resignation, saying her actions were “not compatible with the trust that is necessary to be minister of research and higher education,” but has backed the health minister, claiming it was up to universities rather than politicians to judge academic misdemeanors. He instructed all his ministers to search their own back catalogs for hints of plagiarism.

That's not good enough, critics say. In a letter to Norwegian news agency NTB, Abid Raja, deputy leader of the opposition Liberal Party, wrote: “It is not Kjerkol who should decide her own position,” it is Støre who should “consider whether this matter is compatible with her continuing as health minister.”

Rytterager said he is ambivalent about the “feeding frenzy” he started. “I feel like the media are out for blood and are checking everyone,” he said. “I am afraid that in the future we may not have politicians that have ever taken a risk in their lives because they are afraid to get dragged through the dirt.”