Page last updated at 13:26 GMT, Tuesday, 17 June 2008 14:26 UK

First-hand views from university

Academic writing
Lecturers have been writing to express their frustration over standards
Stories about university plagiarism have prompted hundreds of e-mails from BBC News website readers who are academics or students in universities.

These have shown a recurrent theme of concern that financial pressures are leading to the lowering of standards and threatening the credibility of the degree system.

The higher fees charged for overseas students has been frequently highlighted as creating tensions. It brings cash to universities, but there are questions about the English language standards.

Reflecting the sensitivity of the topic, there is a deep reluctance to talk publicly.

"I found one overseas candidate had copied and pasted text into their work. It was so obvious - different phrasing, tenses and even fonts gave it away," says someone at a leading Russell Group university who marks undergraduate work.

"The official departmental response - turn a blind eye, different cultures have different ways of doing things. The fees that overseas students are charged may also have had something to do with it."

Taking the test

Students have also been expressing worries about the unfairness of this process.

Among these was a postgraduate student representative who sits on the admissions committee of another top university and who has seen at first hand the "unintended consequences" of the pressure not to look too carefully at the English standards of overseas students.

"With regard specifically to recruitment of students without good enough English, this certainly happens, but I'm not clear whether this is deliberate or just incompetence.

"There are clear guidelines on what qualifications are required. However, these qualifications often do not reflect real ability and were not always checked."

This postgraduate, who also dealt confidentially with student problems, has been trying to help a struggling overseas student who admitted that they had paid someone else to take their English language test.

Another student representative had sat on a university's disciplinary appeals panel which considered cases of plagiarism - including overseas students who did not have sufficient English to follow the proceedings.


"Some of these students needed translators during the appeal hearings. That's what happens when you outsource your international admissions team in order to cash in from the lucrative 'market' that is international students."

There have also been many comments from university staff frustrated that they are unable to take action when they are concerned about standards or come across cases of plagiarism.

This is from someone at an "august London institution".

"I recently clerked a plagiarism panel. It was one of the clearest cases I have ever seen with excellent evidence and no plausible mitigation.

"Unfortunately, two out of three academics on the panel (one a lawyer) felt unattributed quotation didn't count as plagiarism as long as, at some point (possibly some pages distant) the source was mentioned.

Despite very strong advice from the Chair of the Panel (an academic), the Registrar, and myself the student was let off all charges."

Or as another academic put it: "I see these issues most days in the uni where I work, quite rightly described in some cases as "The University of bums on seats"."

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