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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 March 2007, 13:00 GMT
Degree applicants 'copy from web'
A student surfs the web on a home PC
"Ever since I was eight..."
Thousands of prospective university students are using the internet to cheat in their applications, analysis by admissions service Ucas reveals.

Checks on 50,000 personal statements found 5% had borrowed material.

Its study, by CFL Software Development, was done after the 15 October deadline for Oxbridge, medicine, dentistry and veterinary science applications.

Almost 800 drew on three example medicine statements on a free website, including a story about burnt pyjamas.

The Ucas application form includes a personal statement for people to detail their interests and say why they want to study their chosen course.

CFL, which makes detection software Copycatch, found:

  • 370 sentences contained a statement beginning: "a fascination for how the human body works..."
  • 234 contained a statement relating a dramatic incident involving "burning a hole in pyjamas at age eight"
  • 175 contained a statement which involved "an elderly or infirm grandfather".
As the deadline had approached the number of applications with borrowed material had increased.


The pyjamas incident features in the top-rated personal statement for medicine applicants on the studential.com advice site:

"Ever since I accidentally burnt holes in my pyjamas after experimenting with a chemistry set on my eighth birthday, I have always had a passion for science."

Among the advice, the website states clearly about example material: "The first thing to remember is don't directly copy any of it - not even a single sentence!

"The reason is, copying statements is plagiarism, and if an admissions tutor sees a statement they recognise they will probably reject you instantly."

Ucas said the proliferation of advice sites, some of which charge a fee for writing tailored statements, is what prompted its inquiry.

It was not planning to take action against the individuals who had apparently been caught copying, a spokesman said.

This was a feasibility study and it was going to consult universities on the best way forward.

He said individual institutions needed to assess applications to see whether there was anything "fishy" about them.

"Very few are. Most of those are just borrowing some material then adapting it.

"There's a difference between copying, and using the web to get advice on how to write the best personal statement - there's nothing wrong with that."


Part of Ucas' message in publicising its findings is to stress to youngsters that the personal statement is their opportunity to stand out from the crowd, to differentiate themselves from others with similar grades.

Borrowed material is most likely to appear at the end of the statement or where an applicant describes why they want to study a subject.

Ucas chief executive, Anthony McClaran, said: "We are pleased to see that plagiarism is not rife in applications and that few applicants are paying to plagiarise.

"We take the integrity of applications very seriously and commissioned this work to investigate the potential for screening applications for borrowed material in the future.

"As part of our ongoing commitment to maintaining integrity standards we will shortly be doubling the size our verification unit, which is responsible for identifying fraudulent applications."

The research also looked for similarities in applications from the same school, but found "very little evidence" of this.

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