E-mail cheats to be expelled by university

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The Independent Online
THE FIRST case of widescale "computer cribbing" by students has been proved at Edinburgh University using special software that can detect copying. The plague of plagiarism means 117 students - more than half of a first year class - have been marked down and some face expulsion under the university's rules.

Professor Sir Stewart Sutherland, the principal, said checks on emails between students on a first-year course, Computer Science 1h, showed "a degree of collaboration which went beyond what is acceptable in exercises intended to be completely individually".

Sir Stewart was apparently referring to the content of a website chat page which offered "a completed Practical 3 program for Computer Science 1h", obtainable by e-mail. The author of the crib sheet had warned readers: "Don't copy it exactly - only use it as a guide! Power to the people!"

But lazy plagiarists were unable to fool the computer software the university used to check for copying. Last month, the university announced an investigation into the coincidence of so many similar scripts. The issue has prompted some academics to support a shift back to invigilated examinations instead of continuous assessment.

Edinburgh Students' Union Association has called on all universities to make clear the rules about plagiarism. "There is a thin line between a good piece of work and a plagiarised piece of work," said Graeme McAulay, the association's president.

The examiners have now lumped all the students who cheated and split the mark available for one piece of work between them. More than 45 students have failed the course and "a small number" of students would be reported to faculty officials for disciplining under university rules.

Expulsions are possible, but they are more likely to be reprimanded, fined or suspended. Failed students can resit a theory examination in September.

Sir Stewart said the university would be introducing new measures, including copying detection systems "to guard against the recurrence of any incident".

It is now possible to purchase written answers to most university courses through the Internet. Even customised essays can be provided.