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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 October 2006, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Exams 'could beat student cheats'
A student surfs the web on a home PC
Students find it easier than ever to copy work from the internet
Exams rather than months of coursework would help to curb cheating in UK universities, shadow higher education minister Boris Johnson has said.

Speaking at a conference, Mr Johnson said only the panic of the exam hall had a clarifying effect which produced "synthesis and genuine learning".

He said the alleged 10% who cheat were a "minority driven to extremes".

The event by vice-chancellors' group, Universities UK, aimed to look at ways to beat internet plagiarism.

The issue of "cutting and pasting" chunks from the internet is seen as a growing problem among university bosses.

'Voyage of discovery'

There has also been a booming industry of websites selling tailor-made essays, some at 1,000 a time.

Baroness Ruth Deech, the student complaints ombudsman, said one way to tackle plagiarism was to return to the true notion of learning.

"Education is a quest, a voyage of discovery weighing up a range of views and encouragement of notions," she said.

"The intellectual tradition of inquiry is getting lost.

Some institutions have adopted a heavy hand and are throwing students off courses which is a crude way to handle the problem
Wes Streeting

"If lecturers can imbue students of the notion that they are searching rather than copying, we maybe can go some way to tackling plagiarism."

She criticised a growing dependence on hand-outs and PowerPoint presentations.

"If people were given books, there might be more chance they would digest what they are reading."

She added that special care was needed with foreign students because of language difficulties and cultural expectations

"There's still a great big gulf between their understanding and our understanding."

Under pressure

Also speaking at the conference in central London was Wes Streeting, education vice-president for the NUS.

He said the high number of students who work part-time was putting pressure on their studies.

"Some institutions have adopted a heavy hand and are throwing students off courses which is a crude way to handle the problem."

He called for fair and clear regulations to be well communicated with the chance for students to check their own work against software which detects plagiarism.

About 80% of institutions now use the electronic software, Turnitin, according to Universities UK.

This uses ISBN numbers, dissertations and a database of online sources to send out an alert if copies are made of any previously published material.

The student derives the feeling that it is all formulaic, so why not just cut and paste?
Boris Johnson
Shadow higher education minister

Mr Johnson also spoke of UKEssays, one website which sells ready-made essays to students and described it as "queasy-making in its efficiency".

He said a "mechanistic quality" to the current education system where students know examiners are looking for key words in order for them to pass was encouraging them to take shortcuts.

"The result is that the student derives the feeling that it is all formulaic, so why not just cut and paste?," he said.

"The sad thing about it is that we should be encouraging people to be intellectually adventurous, instead we are creating a place where we are not taking a risk. It's safer to lift something or to buy it in."

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority's 2003 monitoring figures for school-based exams recorded 1,943 cases of candidate malpractice - 202 involving plagiarism.

But the true scale of the problem is unknown because cheating is not necessarily recorded and individual cases are often dealt with internally.

Student plagiarism 'on the rise'
11 Feb 05 |  Education
Exams agency probes web cheating
11 Jun 06 |  Scotland
Students 'admit copying essays'
16 Mar 06 |  Education

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