Page last updated at 09:01 GMT, Tuesday, 29 April 2008 10:01 UK

Students turn to web plagiarism

By Dickon Hooper
BBC News

Plagiarism by university students across Bristol and Bath is on the increase, according to figures obtained by the BBC.

Buy now, online shopping
Caveat emptor (let the buyer beware), students...

The highest figures come from the University of the West of England (UWE), which identified more than 300 cases in the last academic year, up from 245 in 2005/06.

This represents about 1% of its students, and could be a result of its solid detection procedures, according to the University.

At Bristol University, more than 70 cases were reported last year (from 12,000 undergraduates), against 46 at Bath University (13,000 undergraduates).

Bath's figures more than doubled from 2005/2006.

Plagiarism can be hard to track, with the internet offering a proliferation of sources. But universities employ a variety of means.

Keith Hicks, from UWE, said: "Plagiarism software is no real substitute for staff being in touch with their students and their material."

And he added: "The internet can actually make it easier for us to find the plagiarised material if it is not referenced."

The real problem is contract cheating
Richard Edwards, Bristol University

One growing source for students is essay-generating websites.

A quick search throws up a plethora of alternatives for the cash-rich, time-poor student, ranging from the customised essay to the generic.

"Essay mills recycle essays and our detection service picks them up," said Richard Edwards, assistant registrar in the University of Bristol's Education Support Unit.

"The real problem is contract cheating where students put their work out to tender. The chief weapon against this is the academics doing the marking."

Essay-generating websites tend to go out of their way to shun any suggestion that their work should be used verbatim, claiming it is for research purposes only.

But not everyone is convinced, and as one Bristol undergraduate discovered, quality is far from guaranteed.

Phil Nye, who writes for the university's paper Epigram, signed up as a writer for one site using a false CV, claiming he already had a degree.

No checks were made, and within days he had his first assignment.

'No A-levels'

"They said it would be necessary to eventually have a copy of my degree - but that I could leave it until later," he said.

"They tell clients their writers are fully verified. It shows they are not really delivering on standards promised.

"People buying these essays don't really know what they are getting."

Another student writer, from the University of Oxford, said he was paid by a different firm according to the length of essay and the timescale involved, but averaged about 6 or 7 an hour.

"Everyone understands what the purpose is: You put the title of an essay into the site, it is written up by writers and you hand it in," he said.

"They asked about my qualifications, but I wrote essays on subjects I didn't even have A-levels in."

Caveat emptor (Let the buyer beware) then, for any student deciding to cut corners.

As Mr Hicks, of UWE, said: "We are looking for in-depth and serious research."

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