Cyber-war is declared against student cheats

Cheating university students who buy essays through the internet face exposure from new software capable of detecting plagiarism.

British universities are so worried about the growth of cheating that they are to test, American software that checks students' work against essays in known essay banks. One service in north London offers off-the-peg and customised essays as well as PhD theses and takes up to 500 orders a week.

Recently, 117 students at the University of Edinburgh were accused of using e-mail to copy each other's coursework. The new software assigns a virtual fingerprint to each student which shows their style - how long their sentences and paragraphs are and whether they use adjectives and adverbs a lot.

By checking the pattern, it can detect instantantly whether a student is presenting his or her own material. The software can also detect when a student is lifting paragraphs from someone else's work without attribution and without paraphrasing. The Joint Information Systems Committee, which overseas university computer networks in Britain, is testing the software.

Malcolm Reed, its secretary, said: "Plagiarism is a growing problem. And common sense would tell us it's going to become more of a problem."

Professor Tim O'Shea, master of Birkbeck College, London, said: "It's very easy to check out someone's style. Given that we want to encourage people to do things like the e-university, we need to have an outward sign that the thing is robust."

The Student Essay Bank is run from a private home in Finchley, north London, by Dorit Chomer, a law graduate from Thames Valley University. Ms Chomer has an online catalogue with hundreds of essays in every subject area from topics such as Freud's theory of psychosexual development to the ideological origins of the American revolution.

The essays are of high quality, Ms Chomer said, and were written by students or hard-up lecturers from the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and Manchester. She charges £30 for an off-the-peg essay or £200 for a customised one. The most she has charged is £12,000 for a PhD thesis. If you want an essay of first-class standard, she can oblige. "We write to the standard ordered," she said.

Ms Chomer is not worried by the crackdown. "Universities have already stopped students accessing my website from their libraries," she said. "But the students just go to an internet café instead."

Her essay bank receives 5,000 to 7,000 hits a week, she says. Those inquiries normally yield 300 to 500 orders. Two of the most popular subjects in law are land and trust.

In the past two months, she has received 50 to 60 orders from Oxford students for an essay on: The Land Charges Act of 1925 was an imaginative attempt to deal with problems of equitable interests. However, it contained so many fundamental flaws unseen by the legislatures at the time that the whole scheme threatened to self-destruct. Discuss."

Ms Chomer has also had many requests for essays on the Cold War. "I have a lot of Russian students coming to me for help. They are really lazy."

Professors in the United States have already begun to use the new software which, they say, is as simple as a spellcheck program. One professor at the University of California at Berkeley put 300 student papers through it and found 45 contained text lifted from other sources. Berkeley is testing the service throughout the university this spring.

Professor Alan Lloyd, head of classics and ancient history at the University of Wales, Swansea, said British universities were optimistic such aids would be useful. "At present, when we suspect something is not the work of the student we can't spend the time chasing it up," he said. "Clearly, with the use of this software our hand will be much stronger. We will be able to say, 'This is what the computer says. Come clean or do it again'."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Advisor - OTE £30,000

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Administration Assistant / Apprenticeship Industry

£16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity for an e...

Recruitment Genius: NVQ Assessor

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Private Training Provider off...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own