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Friday, July 9, 1999 Published at 13:38 GMT 14:38 UK


University in Net cheating probe

Edinburgh University has launched an inquiry

BBC Scotland's Morag Kinniburgh on the cheating inquiry
Edinburgh University has withheld the annual grades of 90 students because of concerns over mass cheating via the Internet.

An investigation is being conducted into essays submitted by first year computing science students which university staff believe may have been plagiarised.

The BBC's Colin Blane: "It is possible to download thousands of exam papers from the web"
Examiners found what they considered to be an unusual number of similarities in some of the work.

There are concerns students on the four year course used Websites containing standard essay answers, and e-mail, for the purpose of cheating.

[ image: One of the sites available]
One of the sites available
It is the largest known official inquiry by an academic institution in the United Kingdom into the alleged improper use of the Internet by students.

An Edinburgh University spokeswoman said staff were carrying out an urgent investigation into the allegations.

The inquiry is understood to be focusing on unsupervised essays based on practical work and almost half of the students on the course have been told they will not receive their marks until the inquiry is completed.

The spokeswoman said: "Queries have been raised by the examiners in relation to some 90 students in first year computing science. In the meantime marks are being withheld.

Alan Walker of the Association of University Teachers
"All the students involved have been contacted individually so the examiners can reach a fair resolution.

"As to the more general issue of plagiarism, there is no evidence this is a more serious and widespread problem at the university."

There is growing concern among teachers and lecturers that students are accessing sites which provide ready-made academic material they are able to recycle as their own.

[ image: Alan Walker: Exams important]
Alan Walker: Exams important
Some Websites offer to sell academic material to users and can promise to provide a customised essay to order.

Others like ask students to submit their papers to the site to increase the database.

However, technology is also being used to catch the cheats with the development of software which detects plagiarism by analysing sentence structure, vocabulary, phrases and syntax.

Nick Clayton, Editor of The Scotsman newspaper's Interactive section
And the university said it was using a program to screen the work.

The Association of University Teachers said the Edinburgh investigation underlines the importance of exams in assessing students' performance.

Its spokesman, Alan Walker, said: "This is obviously serious. You do not want a culture of cheating to take place within the university.

"On the other hand this is a small amount of work in the whole gamut which actually goes towards the final degree."

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