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Friday, August 27, 1999 Published at 19:23 GMT 20:23 UK

UK: Scotland

Second university in 'cheat' probe

Glasgow University used software designed to detect cheating

Nearly 50 students at a Scottish university have been accused of cheating, following the introduction of a pioneering anti-copying computer program.

BBC Scotland's Education Correspondent Kenneth Macdonald reports
Staff at Glasgow University said they had become suspicious of similarities in some computer studies course work.

Only last month it was revealed that 117 Edinburgh University students were the subject of an inquiry into cheating via e-mail. One of them has threatened legal action as a result.

In the latest case at Glasgow, action has been taken against some students after the university used software developed by its computing science department to screen course work.

The plagiarism detection program was used to test the work of 230 first-year computing students.

Suspicions raised

They had been warned of its existence and had signed an undertaking to submit only their own work.

The BBC's Kenneth Macdonald: "The software is not the judge and jury"
But when class exercises were checked against each other - a process involving more than 26,000 comparisons - it revealed 59 cases of suspicious similarities.

These were then independently examined and several students were given severe reprimands, 25 had their marks reduced and 11 were given written warnings.

Another 11 were exonerated or appealed successfully, and some cases are still before the university's senate.

The program uses complex calculations of the kind used to compare DNA sequences.

The university said the plagiarism had been found in course work and not exams, and argued the program did work as a deterrent as a check of later work by the same students had found no plagiarism.

Legal threat

In the case of Edinburgh University, computer studies student Henrietta Roe has threatened legal action after being accused by her university of using e-mail to cheat.

Henrietta, 20, was among the students whose course work was the subject of an inquiry.

Half of those involved in the scandal were told they would have to resit an exam but others could face fines or even expulsion.

The first year computer studies students have set up a website, called Edinburgh 117, which is being used to put across their side of the story.

They criticised teaching standards on the course and said they had simply been sharing information while completing practical work.

An inquiry was launched in July after similarities appeared in pre-degree course work.

The university used software which detects plagiarism by analysing sentence structure, vocabulary, phrases and syntax.

However, despite concerns at the outset of the inquiry, officials did not find that students had been copying material from the internet.

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