Students accused of copying university application forms

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The Independent Online

Prospective university students are cutting and pasting material off the internet to pep up their application forms, admissions officers have discovered.

Anti-plagiarism computer software found that five per cent of the 50,000 personal statements tested contained phrases lifted from websites.

The number of forms including copied phrases went up as the deadline for applications approached.

The personal statement is part of the application form where would-be students can expand upon their interests and reasons for wishing to study a particular course. It is intended to give them chance to stand out as individuals and, since 10 per cent of students get straight As at A-level, to help tutors pick candidates with the most aptitude.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service ran applications for Oxbridge, medicine, dentistry and veterinary science through plagiarism detection software as an experiment in methods of picking up borrowed material.

The programme found 370 sentences containing the phrase "a fascination for how the human body works", 234 relating an incident in which the applicant set his or her pyjamas on fire at the age of eight, sparking an interest in science, and 175 phrases involving an elderly or infirm grandfather. Copied phrases were most likely to appear at the start or end of the statement.

The Ucas study was prompted by a surge in the number of application advice websites, some of which charge a fee for writing individual statements.

Ucas did not plan to take action against students caught copying, he added.

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