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Education

Plagiarism at Universities rises

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THE FIRST weeks at University can be hectic.

There is finding friends, finding a decent takeaway, exploring the world in a number of ways that parents don’t like to acknowledge exist.

IGNORANCE NO EXCUSE

There are also, at most universities, a short bedding-in period when students are given an idea of the academic standards they are supposed to attain.

And one message is hammered home early and hammered home often: plagiarism can seriously mess up your academic future. If you are caught, you face a range of punishments which can include having to re-sit a course module up to expulsion from the University.

Even if you help someone cheat – because that is what plagiarism is, cheating – you can be penalised. The student who helps a friend cheat by letting them copy their submitted work is as guilty as the friend they try to ‘help’.

It’s not as if it’s a great mystery to students that the penalties for cheating are serious. That is spelled out by lecturers, and contained in every single course manual and the student code of conduct.

THE PRESSURE TO PERFORM

The pressure on students to perform can be tough. The increase in the numbers of students attending university has debased the value of a degree to the extent that some overseas universities no longer recognise UK universities’ award of one year Master’s degree, let alone regard undergraduate degrees as the hallmark of academic achievement. That applies to universities across the UK.

Most professions will specify that a 2:1 or better is required at undergraduate level for admission to postgraduate study. Graduate traineeships often specify the same requirement as a minimum.

Teaching, for example, is so desperately keen to recruit the best undergraduates and postgraduates that it offers incentives for those with better honours degrees in select subjects. The determination to shed the ‘those who can’t, teach’ label has created a marketplace in which a first class honours degree in a priority subject – physics, maths, chemistry, Welsh – can access £20K of funding for postgraduate qualification as a teacher. A 2:2 degree in any other subject gets you nothing in additional support.

CHEATING NOT NEW

A minority of students have always cheated, but the use of the internet has created an environment in which cheating has become easier. As higher education has become more accessible so has easy access to any number of shortcuts and back-alley ways to bumping up marks.

Looking at some standalone work-related training modules delivered by private companies, there is solid evidence that not only are the lecturers under-qualified to deliver the course material but that they turn a blind-eye to a culture of cut and paste.

The Herald is aware of one course tutor who actively encouraged one person attending such a course to simply resubmit their undergraduate coursework to gain the qualification they were seeking via the provider employing the tutor.

Self-plagiarism is still plagiarism and it is still cheating. More importantly, the training provider – or rather, the course tutor – was, of course, swindling the employer funding the training.

Does it matter?

Of course it does. In a working world in which employers look at qualifications first, how is the employer meant to distinguish between a qualification gained through GENUINE effort, work, and ability and one gained by a cheating recourse to Control-C followed by Control-V?

Those who get away with it are often smug, but they also liars and – ultimately – frauds.

BUYING FAILURE

Essay mills, the last resort of the truly idle cheat, claim to be able to deliver a guaranteed grade in any subject on any topic – for a price.

Essay mills represent cheating on a commercial and contractual scale. An essay mill is a business that allows customers to commission an original piece of writing on a particular topic so that they may commit academic fraud. Students commission others to write their coursework for them through an essay mill in the hope they will attain the grade required.

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education said in 2016: “Providers of these services claim that the essays they produce are ‘100 per cent plagiarism free’, but that is a misleading claim. While the essay may not contain any plagiarised text itself, it becomes an act of plagiarism and academic dishonesty once the student submits it for assessment and represents it as his or her own work.

“If students submit work that is not their own, this compromises the fairness of the assessment process and poses a threat to the reputation of UK higher education. There are potentially serious ramifications for the public if people who falsely claim to be competent as a result of an academic award enter a profession and practise.”

In February this year, the UK Government began a consultation with QAA, universities, and the NUS. At that point, the UK Government suggested it was reluctant to go down the legislative route to try and tackle the problem, but in other countries both the provider AND the student would be guilty of a criminal offence.

Such is the scale of the issue across the UK, and not solely in Wales, that QAA has recommended that the advertising of ‘contract cheating’ services be banned and that criminal penalties be put in place for cheating by the use of essay mills. In New Zealand, essay mills have been fined and had their assets frozen.

PLAGIARISM IN WELSH UNIS

The issue has been thrown into sharp relief by a Freedom of Information Act request made by BBC Radio Wales.

Figures obtained by the broadcaster showed an increase in cases of alleged plagiarism from 1,370 2013/14 to 2,044 in 2015/16.

The BBC Freedom of Information request disclosed the following over the three academic years 2013/14 to 2015/16

  • University of South Wales (approximately 30,000 students): 1,144 students accused of cheating, two prohibited from sitting future exams
  • Cardiff Metropolitan University: 565 students accused of cheating, 12 prohibited from sitting future exams
  • University of Wales Trinity Saint David – UWTSD: 928 students accused of cheating, 47 prohibited from sitting future exams
  • Bangor University: 36 students accused of cheating, four prohibited from sitting future exams
  • Cardiff University: 713 students accused of cheating, three prohibited from sitting future exams
  • Swansea University: 1,157 students accused of cheating, 25 prohibited from sitting future exams
  • Wrexham Glyndwr University: 103 students accused of cheating, three prohibited from sitting future exams
  • Aberystwyth University: 551 students accused of cheating, 0 prohibited from sitting future exams
  • The increased detection of plagiarism suggests that universities are becoming more adept at identifying incidents of academic fraud.

Many Universities use software to detect plagiarism, for example Turn-it-in. The software uses a document comparison algorithm that checks papers against a massive database of stored academic papers to identify cheats.

We asked UWTSD to comment on the figures.

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Education

Examination crisis: teacher’s predicted grades to be given to students

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THE Welsh Government has announced today (Mon, Aug 17) that AS, A level, GCSE, Skills Challenge Certificate and Welsh Baccalaureate grades in Wales will now be awarded on the basis of Centre Assessment Grades.

This occurred after the outrage of students, causing protests outside the Senedd after hearing that a total of 42% of A-level grades predicted by their teachers had been lowered when the Welsh results were published last week. This was due to the decision to process these grades through an algorithm.

Education Minister Kirsty Williams said she took the decision to maintain confidence in the system.

Speaking on the decision, Kirsty Williams said: “Working with Qualifications Wales and WJEC we have sought an approach which provides fairness and balances out differences in the standards applied to judgments in schools.

“Given decisions elsewhere, the balance of fairness now lies with awarding Centre Assessment grades to students, despite the strengths of the system in Wales.

“I am taking this decision now ahead of results being released this week, so that there is time for the necessary work to take place.

“For grades issued last week, I have decided that all awards in Wales, will also be made on the basis of teacher assessment.

“For those young people, for whom our system produced higher grades than those predicted by teachers, the higher grades will stand.

“Maintaining standards is not new for 2020, it is a feature of awarding qualifications every year in Wales, and across the UK.

“However, it is clear that maintaining confidence in our qualifications whilst being fair to students requires this difficult decision.

“These have been exceptional circumstances, and in due course I will be making a further statement on an independent review of events following the cancellation of this year’s exams.

“Other Awarding Bodies across the UK are involved in determining the approach to vocational qualifications. This continues to be the case but it is important that I give assurance to GCSE, AS and A level student at the earliest opportunity.”

This was a decision welcomed by Suzy Davies, Shadow Education Minister.

Commenting on the Decision, Suzy Davies said: “This has been an exceptional time, and this news will come as a very welcome relief for the thousands of A-Level students who last week were looking at grades lower than they were predicted to receive. It will also be a relief to pupils expecting results this week as well as an acknowledgement of quite how much effort teachers put into this.

“It is reassuring that the Minister has listened to the Welsh Conservatives and other parties in the Welsh Parliament, but especially pleasing that she heard the voices of young people up and down the country.

“These students – at A, AS, GCSE, Skills Challenge Certificate, and Welsh Baccalaureate level – will now have the confidence to plan their future education or career aspirations, and reach their potential.”

The Education Minister also promised an independent review of the events “following the cancellation of this year’s exams”.

Students who received higher grades than those predicted by teachers will keep them.

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Education

Swansea University appoints new governing body Chair

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Swansea University is pleased to announce that Bleddyn Phillips has been appointed as its new Chair of Council.
Mr Phillips, who joined the University’s governing body in May 2017, has been appointed Chair for a four-year term replacing Sir Roger Jones, whose term of office came to an end in September 2019.

Mr Phillips said: “It is a great honour to be appointed Swansea University’s Chair of Council. As a Welsh-speaker, with strong roots in Llanelli and Gower, and with both parents having studied at Swansea, I have long felt an affinity with the University and have been delighted to serve on the Council.

“I want to acknowledge the contribution made to the University by Sir Roger Jones over almost 14 years and I very much look forward to working with, and serving, the University as it celebrates its centenary in 2020 and beyond.”

Professor Paul Boyle, Vice-Chancellor of the University, said “It will be a privilege to work with Bleddyn as we develop our new strategic plan and look forward to beginning our second century in 2020.”

Mr Phillips is a lawyer by profession, a former commercial director at oil companies BP and Total, and later Global Head of the Oil and Gas practice at the international law firm, Clifford Chance LLP. He is Director of Llanelli Scarlets RFC and was a trustee of the Wales Millennium Centre from 2012-2018.

The Council is the University’s governing body, which approves the mission and strategic vision of the University, long-term academic and business plans, key performance indicators and overall standards. The Council assures that the University discharges its duties in accordance with the Welsh Quality Assessment Framework.

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Education

Experts attack Welsh Government’s proposed smacking ban plan

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PROMINENT academics have criticised the Welsh Government’s bill to criminalise parental smacking during a public debate at Swansea University.

Tonight, experts from the fields of sociology and criminology and parenting studies poured scorn on the plan during an Academy of Ideas debate on state intervention in the family.

A panel of three academics discussed the merits or otherwise of the smacking legislation, which is due to be debated by AMs for a third time in January next year.

Dr Stuart Waiton, a senior lecturer in sociology and criminology at Abertay University and outspoken critic of the Scottish smacking Bill, said: “No longer treated like citizens, as adults who have an opinion and a basic level of autonomy to raise our children, we have culture change imposed from on high – we are made ‘aware’ by the new authoritarians holding the stick above us.

“The smacking act is a disgrace. It is a form of brutality that undermines parents, weakens the meaning of freedom, and will go on to destroy many loving families who dare to think and act differently to the modern elitists.”

Dr Waiton added: “The brutality of the smacking act will mean that a light smack on the hand or bottom of a child will be a criminal offence. Hard smacking is already illegal, but to the middle-class anti-smacking zealots that was not enough. Children, they argue, need equal protection from assault. The very language they use is alien to the millions of parents who occasionally smack rather than assault their children.

“Parents know that smacking a child is a form of discipline often done out of love and concern rather than something that is abusive and criminal.”

Criticising the way politicians at the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have engaged with parents on the smacking legislation, he said: “The new elite think a lot about consultation and inclusion. The reality is a process run by a small section of society, politicians and professionals, who exist in their own bubble and are distant and disconnected from ordinary people.”

Ellie Lee, Professor of Parenting Research at the University of Kent also spoke out on the Welsh Government’s plans.

“Within the context of an authoritative child rearing relationship, aversive discipline including smacking is well accepted by the young child, effective in managing short-term misbehaviour and has no documented harmful long-term effects.”

She added: “It should be the concern of professionals who work with parents to respectfully offer them alternative disciplinary strategies rather than to condemn parents for using methods consonant with their own, but not the counsellors beliefs and values.”

The Professor accused the Welsh Government of using the “full force of the criminal law to attack people who disagree on the comparative merits of using smacking rather than something like timeout”, saying it is a “bureaucratic imposition on parents”.

Only one academic – Dr Gideon Calder, Associate Professor in Sociology and Social Policy at Swansea University – spoke in favour of Government interventions like the smacking ban.

Dr Calder argued that intervention is justifiable in some instances and said something like the smacking ban is not necessarily authoritarian. He said: “the point of the legislation is to safeguard children from potentially harmful interactions.”

Commenting on the debate, Jamie Gillies, spokesman for the Be Reasonable Wales campaign, said:

“The criticism levelled at the Government’s smacking plans tonight by experts in the fields of sociology, criminology and parenting studies should be a wakeup call to Ministers.

“Experts are not convinced that the plan to outlaw parental smacking is viable, needful or helpful in terms of improving child protection.

“I hope AMs hear the concerns of these academics as well as their constituents and scrap the smacking ban bill when it’s voted on in January.”

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