Page last updated at 11:51 GMT, Friday, 31 October 2008

Cambridge students 'plagiarising'

Students at computer
The internet has made it much easier to copy other people's work

Almost half of students admitted to plagiarism in a poll carried out by a students' newspaper at the University of Cambridge.

The Varsity newspaper reported that students admitted to copying material found on the internet and submitting it as their own.

The survey also claimed that only one in 20 students had been caught.

The University of Cambridge says that it has policies in place to prevent this serious disciplinary offence.

But the university also says that "in spite of these provisions we acknowledge that plagiarism is a significant issue and an increasingly complex one in the new internet era, for all universities to deal with".

'Poor scholarship'

The survey from the Cambridge newspaper examines what has proved a difficult problem for higher education, particularly with the accessibility of material from the internet and the growth of commercial essay writing services.

The online student survey found that 49% of respondents had admitted to a range of different types of plagiarism, including handing in someone else's work, copying and pasting from the internet, buying an essay or else paying someone else to edit work.

Varsity carries anonymous interviews with students representing different attitudes to plagiarism - including one student who routinely copies material, another who is very opposed to such cheating and another who says that "low level plagiarism is fairly institutionalised".

Among the concerns from the survey was an over-reliance on sources such as the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, with 82% of plagiarists admitting to taking material from the website.

The University of Cambridge says that it is working with faculties and the students' union to make sure that all students understand that plagiarism is unacceptable - "both poor scholarship and a breach of academic integrity".

It also uses software to detect plagiarism in submitted work.

But the survey - based on anonymous admissions - highlights the uncertainty surrounding the extent of plagiarism.

There have also been concerns about whether plagiarism is really taken as seriously as university regulations suggest.

A report this year from the from the Higher Education Academy and Joint Information Systems Committee found that even repeat offenders were unlikely to be thrown off courses for cheating.

Only 143 students caught cheating were expelled out of 9,200 cases - despite almost all universities threatening expulsion as a sanction. The study found that the most common penalty was to have to re-submit work.

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