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Sunday, 13 May, 2001, 17:22 GMT 18:22 UK
Computer catches university 'cheats'
Girl at computer
Students can get essays on the Internet
By Jonny Dymond in Washington

As university students across the United States take their exams, there is an uproar in the University of Virginia.

More than 120 students have been accused of cheating on their physics coursework - caught, it is alleged, by a computer programme designed to spot plagiarism.


For Virginia's students, there may be an extremely high price to pay

Founded by one of the fathers of the American republic and housed in grandiose buildings on sweeping green lawns, the University of Virginia is proud of its reputation and proud of the honour code which polices student behaviour.

That code is being tested in the most serious way.

After being alerted by a disgruntled student, the professor leading the class ran essays through a computer programme designed to detect plagiarism.

Consecutive words

The programme looks for work which contains the same six consecutive words or more.

Fifty hours and more than 1,800 essays later, the computer found up to 60 matches in some essays.

With the enormous increase in the amount of information on the internet and some sites dedicated to swapping and selling academic assistance, plagiarism has become a major concern throughout the US.

But for Virginia's students there may be an extremely high price to pay.

The university's honour code allows students effectively to police themselves, but punishment is extreme - students found guilty of copying work from others face expulsion or the revocation of previously awarded degrees.

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See also:

06 Mar 01 | Education
Teachers caught cheating
05 Feb 00 | Education
Cheats stay one step ahead
27 Oct 99 | Education
Catching the internet cheats
07 May 99 | Education
Students online: Lying, cheating...
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