Plagiarism on the rise


Gina Mete

(Photo Credit: Maik Meid)

The Senate Assessors for Student Conduct’s Annual Report to Senate for 2012-13 has shown that the total number of students reprimanded for breaching the University’s Code of Student Conduct has risen significantly over the last two years.

There has been a particular increase in cases of plagiarism, with a total of 95 alleged cases in the 2012-13 session, compared to 81, 50 and 60 in the previous three years.

Last year’s total represents an increase of 90% on the 2010-11 figure for plagiarism and of those 95 cases, 44 were brought to the Senate Assessors for consideration, while the other 51 were dealt with at School level. In 2011-12 there were 37 cases brought to the Senate Assessors, while the remaining 44 cases were dealt with by Schools in that year.

Plagiarism of other students’ work and published work has increased from last year, while there has been a decrease in plagiarism of web-based sources.

In response, Senate has been asked to consider the possibility of having two designated plagiarism officers for each School. Some Schools already take this approach and it was noted: “Although there were workload issues to consider, the Schools who had implemented such a process had found it beneficial.”

The general penalty for plagiarism is for the plagiarised work to be reduced to a grade H. The report states that in cases where the plagiarism is “blatant or very substantial”, there should be no opportunity given for reassessment. Cases of plagiarism at non-Honours level which are also first offences are usually handled by Heads of Schools.

The report states that incidences of repeat offences are very rare and credits the disciplinary process. The report stated: “Numbers remain small overall when compared against the student population which exceeds 23,000.

There has also been an increase in the number of students referred to the Senate Student Conduct Committee (SSCC), which is one stage up from the Senate Assessors, for a range of disciplinary reasons. Cases may be passed on to the SSCC if they are particularly serious or if the Senate Assessors have been unable to reach a decision.

Twelve cases were brought to the SSCC in 2012-13, including four allegations of disorderly, threatening or violent conduct (involving five students), one misuse of illegal substances, three cases of fraudulent or deceptive behaviour, one case of disruptive behaviour, one allegation of research misconduct and two students accused of cheating or gaining unfair advantage in assessment.

Two of these resulted in permanent expulsion: one for sexual offences and another for fraudulent behaviour. Another incident of fraudulent behaviour resulted in a year-long suspension for the student involved.

With regards to cheating, the number of cases in 2012-13 was 18, down from 30 the year before – a figure noted at the time as being “unusually high.” It was mentioned, however, that the quality of some invigilator reports was not perfect and the failure to confiscate notes, for example, has led to some students escaping unpunished as no action could be taken. Invigilator training sessions were held in November 2013 “in order to emphasise the importance of clear reporting and presentation of evidence.”

The report also stated that a common method of cheating is through the use of small notes hidden in English language dictionaries and that with the large numbers sitting many exams it is impossible to thoroughly check all dictionaries in an exam hall. Given that many other universities do not permit such dictionaries, it was suggested that the Senate Assessors may wish to review whether or not English dictionaries should be allowed in exams.