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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 June, 2004, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
'Epidemic' of student cheating?
Students are sharply divided on the extent of exam cheating

"As a longstanding lecturer in higher education, I can say the problem has reached epidemic levels."

So writes a reader responding to a survey claiming that a quarter of students were cheating by copying material from the internet.

The survey sparked a strong response from BBC News Online readers and showed a very divided view of what was really going in universities.

While there were lecturers and students who said that plagiarism was widespread - there were others who said that it was being made very clear to students that cheats faced serious penalties.

And there were accusations that universities, not wanting the hassle or the loss of revenue from confronting the cheating, were ready to turn a blind eye to some blatant plagiarism.

"It drives me crazy," writes a lecturer from a London university, describing when students give him copied work. "My usual response is - 'Either you're stupid, or you think I am - which is it?' or 'Do you honestly think you deserve a degree for cut-and-pasting like a 6 year-old could do?'".

"Sadly the answer seems to be 'yes'. I don't turn a blind eye - but some of my colleagues do - mainly due to the time taken to check the work, but also to heavy-duty disciplinary procedures which people can't face going through."

'Cheating is rife'

This view was supported by another lecturer, who said bluntly: "Cheating is rife."

But there were academics who wrote in to say that there was a problem with internet plagiarism, but it was being taken seriously.

"Is plagiarism a big problem? Yes, to judge by the time we spend dealing with it. Do universities turn a blind eye? No - certainly not," wrote a lecturer from a new university in London.

This was echoed by another who said a student in her institution had just been failed on her degree course after being caught cheating.

"I have certainly seen a lot of evidence of plagiarism. It is an issue which is exercising a lot of people at the moment, but I can assure everyone that I know of no institution where a 'blind eye' is being turned.

"On the contrary, very stringent sanctions are being applied. At my own institution this week a final-year student was found to have plagiarised most of her couresework for this year. Her marks were all downgraded to zero, and she failed her degree with no right of re-sit."

Dodging the problem

Such a tough decision is not easy for any university - and an academic in Scotland reported how a previous department had ducked the issue.

"At my last job, the centre invented the crime of 'bad practice' which meant that students caught plagiarising could face this less serious charge and still be given pass marks for a piece of work that was almost totally copied."

Another academic - and several parents - said the problems were caused by schools, where they claimed, pupils were allowed to use information gathered directly from the internet.

A number of students and former students claimed they had used the internet to cheat on occasions - and several spoke of the financial pressure.

"Now that fees have been introduced, students are under even more pressure to pass. It is not surprising, therefore, that many choose to copy from the internet. To spend thousands of pounds each year only to fail is every student's nightmare," wrote a student at a Yorkshire university.

Clear warnings

But there were many e-mails detailing the strong warnings being sent by universities to students about cheating.

"From day one we were drilled about plagiarism, not a month went by where a lecturer didn't mention it to us. We were informed of software used that would check all our work against each other and against external sources, it was not worth the risk to cheat," wrote a student at another Yorkshire university.

A law student at a midlands university said the warnings were so frequent that there was "no excuse for not knowing what the law school thought was plagarism".

There were other specific claims made about cheating. Universities were accused of deliberately overlooking the plagiarism of some overseas students, rather than risk the income from these students.

And it was also claimed that students in exams were loading useful information into the memory of graphical calculators.

Many readers remained unconvinced of the effectiveness of software to catch students who were copying material.

Instead they proposed that the cut-and-paste students could be stopped if degrees were entirely determined by the results of hand-written exams in an exam hall.




SEE ALSO:
'Quarter of students cheating'
30 Jun 04 |  Education
Students using the net to cheat
13 Nov 03 |  Education
Net closes on essay cheats
10 Jan 03 |  Education



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