Crackdown on cheats

The Guardian


A sophisticated cheat detection system is being considered by 140 British universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, as new research reveals that more than 90,000 students regularly plagiarise essays. Major universities are planning to introduce software to catch cheats, in an attempt to protect the credibility of degree qualifications. Many lecturers are concerned by a growing market on the Net offering students customised essays for sale. The move coincides with the first attempt to gauge the extent of plagiarism in higher education. The UK government-funded Plagiarism Advisory Service suggests that more than 10 per cent of the 9,00,000 UK students in higher education “insert sections of text from an outside source” into their work and attempt to pass it off as their own.

But experts feel the true scale of cheating is far higher because the definition of plagiarism used by the research consultancy FreshMinds is so narrow. The programme works by checking students’ work against 8.5 billion web pages and is automatically updated with every journal, abstract and newspaper article printed. Fiona Duggan, manager of the PAS, said the software would serve as a powerful deterrent and would help lecturers who waste time checking the work of students they suspect of cheating. Officials from the UK government-funded Joint Information Systems Committee, who helped develop the software, are keen for students to be given regular guidance on plagiarism.

The move follows the latest row over exam cheats after a student was told he would get no marks for his essays because he had copied them from the Internet. Such cases, however, remain rare, with no figures available from the government on how many students are caught cheating. But students say that the problem of plagiarism is huge. A student at University of Central Lancashire said, “If you take precautions, you won’t get caught.” Although he was caught, the student was unrepentant. More than 15,000 students are estimated to have signed up to one website alone, which charges 9.99 pounds for access to assignments. Another, Academic Answers Ltd, runs five websites and receives 800 requests a week for tailor-made essays. Barclay Littlewood, director of AAL, said demand was so great that his firm could only meet around half of these orders.