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Friday, August 13, 1999 Published at 09:35 GMT 10:35 UK


Students 'used e-mail to cheat'

Edinburgh University launched a probe into e-mail cheating

Scottish university students who were accused of using e-mail to cheat have had their course marks reduced.

Half of the 117 computing science students at the centre of an investigation at Edinburgh University must resit an exam and some could face suspensions, fines, reprimands or even expulsion.

University officials, who conducted a disciplinary inquiry into the allegations of wholesale copying, say none of the initial 91 first year students whose work was scrutinised have been exonerated.

[ image: Computing science work was analysed]
Computing science work was analysed
And the work of a further 26 students showed evidence of inappropriate collaboration.

In light of the inquiry, launched after concerns surfaced that students used new technology to copy other people's work, the university says it will introduce new measures to stop any kind of repeat.

Principal, Professor Sir Stewart Sutherland, said: "To guard against the recurrence of any such incident, the approach taken to assessed practical exercises in computer science is being reviewed ahead of the next session and appropriate measures introduced.

"These will include re-emphasising to students that examination regulations apply equally to practical work and that copying detection systems routinely operate."

The university used software which detects plagiarism by analysing sentence structure, vocabulary, phrases and syntax.

Ready-made answers

However, despite concerns at the outset of the inquiry, officials did not find that students had been copying ready-made answers and essays from the Internet.

Letters have been sent to 117 students from the board of examiners telling them their work "showed a degree of collaboration which went beyond what is acceptable in exercises which are intended to be completed individually".

The university said some students will receive no marks for a practical exercise.

A "small number" will be reported to faculty officials under the university's code of discipline with the prospect of suspensions, fines and reprimands or even expulsion.

The less serious offenders have had their marks reduced and will be asked to take a resit theory exam.

Sir Stewart said: "The university's examination procedures are academically rigorous and the university takes the entire examination process very seriously.

"At the first indication of copying, detection software was used."

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