Plagiarism in the Wider World
A bit of history
There is nothing new about plagiarism; there are recorded cases of plagiarism, misconduct and cheating occurring which date back hundreds of years. Furthermore, plagiarism is not unique to studying or working in an educational environment. Accusations of plagiarism or ‘foul play’ have occurred in industry, literature, and music – bestselling authors Ian McEwan and Dan Brown are amongst those accused of using material without acknowledging it. The purpose of this section is to provide a little more contextual information about the issues – issues which have informed the development of this web site.
Plagiarism in the wider world
If you follow any part of the press, the chances are that you will have heard stories about plagiarism, especially in this internet age. A quick search on the BBC web site (or various others) will reveal lots of cases; here are a few examples which were on line at the time we wrote this piece:
- ‘Plagiarist White House aide quits’
- ‘Malaysia editor in plagiarism row’
- ‘Plagiarism row trims boss’s pay’
- ‘Canada PM faces plagiarism claim’
- ‘The song they didn’t write? Coldplay are accused of plagiarism by American band'
Such stories might be of interest to us: however, this is also an issue which is right on our doorsteps, here in higher education. In the current higher education environment, plagiarism represents a serious challenge, and universities have had to pay more attention to it. It poses a problem because it represents a form of cheating or dishonesty. The act of using another person’s words or ideas as one’s own without acknowledgement undermines commonly accepted academic values, de-motivates other students, and dilutes the value of the end-qualification – both for the offender and for other students.
In the last 10-15 years, we have seen more opportunities for plagiarism. Similarly, some statistics would suggest more recorded incidences of plagiarism occurring, coupled with the inevitable response. This includes more sophisticated attempts to detect it and new strategies to prevent it from occurring.
Whose fault is plagiarism? Who is to blame?
This is not a straightforward question to address, as various circumstances need to be considered. Collectively, the following issues go some way to explaining the current situation, whilst in other sections of this website, you will find advice – tailored to both students and staff - on how to avoid plagiarism.
The role of the internet
The emergence of the web into a mass resource provides one explanation for increased incidences of plagiarism. The web has bestowed many benefits, yet there is a downside: it also allows users to quickly find information and cut and paste it into their own work. Various research studies have demonstrated that the web provides a resource which has encouraged some students to plagiarise, and often do so in an attempt to complete a piece of coursework quickly, perhaps due to other time pressures.
Essay banks, paper mills and other web ‘services’
It is not just the web itself, but some of the specific resources available within it that enable people to plagiarise. These ‘services’ include essay banks (or ‘paper mills’), bidding sites, and various bespoke facilities, and some of them are disturbingly advanced. Such services have often proved lucrative to their creators, and have themselves attracted media attention, in publications including 'Times Higher Education' and 'The Guardian'.
The changing role of the student
The role and experience of the student has changed over the last decade. Most undergraduates starting at City this autumn will not benefit from a fee-free education, nor a maintenance grant. Today, financial pressures for students are much increased, with many undertaking part time jobs as a route to fund themselves. Realistically, such arrangements leave less time for studying, with – for some - the corresponding temptation to locate ‘short cuts’ to complete modules and programmes.
Internationalisation and cultural issues
This is an important factor in two respects. First, the composition of the UK population is more diverse, with greater representation from other societies and cultures than ever before; in reality, this impacts upon some institutions (such as city centre ones) more than others. Second, UK higher education institutions obtain higher fees from overseas students and compete with other institutions to attract interest from suitably qualified overseas’ applicants.
These two factors have contributed to our universities becoming highly international – yet not all newly arriving students in our own institution may have the same understanding or study experiences that one native to the UK does. Or rather, they might have been accustomed to a different set of study skills, in which, for example, reproducing what a lecturer has said in an essay or report is interpreted as a sign of respect. Thus, there is a responsibility on universities for all new students to be brought to an equal level to ensure that all have an understanding of the relevant issues.
Institutions not undertaking sufficient preventative action
Institutions bear a responsibility to introduce their students to study skills issues. Students need training in information skills, referencing, time management, and advice about plagiarism prevention, with reinforcement of these skills provided at later stages of the programme. At City, over the last three years, we have updated our regulatory framework; undertaken plagiarism prevention events; worked more closely with the Students' Union; developed projects through the Educational Development Associate initiative; and built this web site.
Unfortunately, students sometimes do bear the responsibility for cheating, and that cheating might be undertaken knowingly, despite efforts being made to dissuade from such behaviours. Dishonest behaviours are undertaken by small numbers of people in most walks of life: higher education is no exception. Even where every effort is made to take positive action, there will also be those who choose to cheat.