Student plagiarism: the unoriginal sin

As the academic pressure on young people increases, so does the temptat ion to cheat. Elaine Williams reports

Ever since Wolverhampton University printed 1,000 posters warning students against the sins of plagiarism last month, other universities have been ringing up asking for details of the campaign.

Plagiarism is not new: students have been cheating as long as there have been examinations to cheat in, but the nature of the present problem is creating ripples of anxiety among the academic community.

Wolverhampton says that small numbers of students have developed the habit ot copying out tracts of texts from books and passing them off as their own in essays. Most students will have been tempted to do this during their academic careers but some wouldargue that the pressures to lift from books, copy from other students, make up quotes, invent data are greater than ever.

Dr Vivien Wylie, Wolverhampton's pro vice-chancellor, points to mounting debts driving students into paid work, forcing them to take short-cuts in their studies; others believe students are merely grasping the increased opportunities for plagiarism presented by the switch from final examinations to continuous assessment in many modular degrees. Seminar and group presentations, dissertations, essays, short reports, all vulnerable to copying and collusion, can now contribute to the final mark.

The university has taken the line that students who fail to give references and supply full bibliographies need to realise the seriousness of their offence - hence the posters. Dr Wylie says: "Part of the academic process is to go away and read other people's work and come up with your own conclusions, but if you lift passages word for word then you have to say that and put them in quotation marks."

Professor Steven Newstead of Plymouth University's psychology department is investigating the prevalence of cheating among Britain's undergraduates. His research suggests that it is commonplace: in a sample of 2,000 students from across the sector, more than 40 per cent admitted to copying material from books without acknowledging sources, while 50 per cent admitted inventing data. Taking unauthorised material into examinations was only acknowledged by 8 per cent. Professor Newstead says: "Cheating in course work is much easier than in exams."

But he feels that universities need to define for students what constitutes cheating. "For many students, producing a piece of work in time for assessment is more important than how you do it, it is more important than the data collection side. Inventingdata is not seen, therefore, as serious wrongdoing. But any lecturer will tell you that the way you collect data is vital and inventing data is one of the cardinal sins," he says.

Lecturers, he believes, are nevertheless reluctant to make accusations unless they have watertight evidence that plagiarism or cheating has taken place, for fear of getting involved in appeals and litigation.

Leeds University students, taking part of their final exams last week, were in no doubt that the growth in student numbers and less personal contact with tutors increased the opportunities for cheating. Melanie Sachdeva, a second year economics and management student, said that some students made up quotes and attributed names to them that would be difficult and time-consuming for lecturers to track down.

Jennifer Kumah, a Spanish and management student, said that essays were taken and copied by other students. "I handed in a piece of work that contributed to my final degree, but I never got it back. My tutor said he left it in my pigeonhole but I am sureit was pinched and copied. Sometimes I feel tempted to do it myself," she said.

Ian Sharp, a computing student, said that students were increasingly reluctant to hand in work before deadlines, for fear that it would be taken. He also said he had known of students in computing put their own names at the top of other people's programsand resubmit them as their own: "One girl did it in my group and she was given a warning. I do think copying between students is a big issue."

Dr Andrew Brooks, senior assistant registrar at Leeds University, believes, however, that students are no more likely to plagiarise now than in the past and that a certain amount of collusion is acceptable. "People helping one another is as old as the hills. Every examiner who has been through the system knows that," he says. But he accepts that people are "more aware" of the problems of plagiarism because a greater proportion of assessment was coming from coursework: "That's why there will always be a place for the unseen, written exam."

Dr David Aldabass, principal lecturer in computing at Nottingham Trent University, believes plagiarism is a growing and serious problem. His department, taking its cue from Wolverhampton, is to embark on an educational campaign. He says that the growth in student numbers means few lecturers are familiar with the academic development of individual students.

"When you are marking 200-300 pieces of course work at a time, copying or collusion is not always easy to spot. I had two students submit identical work. Both were distressed that they should be accused of copying. In such a case, how can you tell who isthe perpetrator? It's very difficult. You have to talk to them individually and compare their performance over time."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Murray celebrates reaching the final
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Life and Style
tech
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Sport
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
Arts and Entertainment
Master of ceremony: Jeremy Paxman
tvReview: Victory for Jeremy Paxman in this absorbing, revealing tale
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher

£130 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Humanities Teacher Jan 2015 - July...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Our exclusive client in St Albans Hertfords...

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Primary Teachers

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teachers needed in Hertfordshir...

Tradewind Recruitment: Biology Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Teacher of Biology Required for April 2015...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness