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Plagiarism up 700% at University

The University of Nottingham has insisted that cheating is not skyrocketing among its students, following the emergence of figures which show a significant rise in recorded plagiarism at the institution in the last five years.

According to records released under the Freedom of Information Act, 280 students were caught submitting copied work in coursework last year compared to 38 in 2004: a rise of over 700%. Another 11 were found to have cheated in exams in the 2008/09 session.

The University also reported 123 second offenders caught in the last five years. Only four of the culprits were expelled, while most were allowed to continue studying after having their marks docked. Citing an investment in plagiarism detection software and a change in the system for gathering plagiarism data, a spokesman for the University argued that “There is no clear evidence that plagiarism and cheating have actually increased to this extent.”

Figures showed that the business school came top in the table with 45 instances of plagiarism last year, followed by humanities with 36. However, it was argued by the University that any disparity between departments was only in line with the respective size of the departments.

In an official statement, the University spokesman said: “In 2006 the university invested in plagiarism detection software to assist our academics. This accounts in part for a noticeable rise in cases detected and proven.

“It is impossible to attempt to extrapolate increases or draw any conclusions from the limited and non-comparable data currently available in relation to plagiarism. Direct comparison is unreliable since the information held by schools within the University from before 2006 is incomplete.”

Will Gant

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13 Comments on this post.
  • Harry
    21 January 2010 at 13:47
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    Only 4 out of 123 repeat offenders were expelled? I was always under the impression of one strike and you’re out when it comes to plagiarism? Have to say also that the exam behaviour of some people in this university is scandalous. Invigilators need to clamp down on talking and writing beyond time in the exam room. If someone was seen doing either at my school they had their paper torn in half in front of their face….

  • Chris Jones
    21 January 2010 at 15:02
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    I was just discussing this earlier, I am doing a portfolio assignment my friend has done the year before me, and the research books are the same, and so is our evidence that we are presenting. Because we took all the same classes we are going to use the handouts and models that they provide for us, so in that respect there will be a high probability that our assignments will look the same.

    Given that there will be obvious writing style differences I would like to know what methods they deem to be classified as plagiarism. Because I am sure honest working students will forget to reference an article here and there which they might classify as plagiarism.

  • Albert Wallace
    21 January 2010 at 15:46
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    As far as I can understand it, the plagiarism detection software is only used as a method for spotting where plagiarism MAY have taken place. It is not the only method used, and your tutors shouldn’t take its findings as evidence that you have 100% plagiarised. If the software flags up your work, the tutor will (or at least, should) go through your work themselves, and then make the decision if plagiarism has taken place.

    I am sure if what you say is true about having similar resources, your tutor will know this, and more than likely know it is not plagiarism. In any case plagiarism is when you have obviously copied ideas from someone and not referenced them. If you forget to footnote one or two articles, and is fairly clear you were not boldly stealing there arguments, then I’m sure any reasonable people could see that. Nevertheless, be careful with referencing!

  • Jon Swaint
    21 January 2010 at 19:28
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    This is a bit of a tabloid story really, and the stats seem to have been played to make a good headline.

    To begin with, 700% is hardly an astounding increase when your base figure is low. If a new shop sold 10 computers in its first week and 70 in its second, you’d probably look on them with consternation if they announced “700% increases” (even though it would, factually, be true).

    Most crucially, though, this is a rise in REPORTED figures, which if anything means simply that the university is catching more people – something we should be happy about. Impact even has the university’s statement here, indicating that they know the reason the figures have increased but chose to skew it to make a good story.

    It’s a bit like writing a story about more street fights after the introduction of CCTV. More fights are reported by the police because more are detected, but does that mean there’s been an increase in violence? Not really.

  • Scott Perkins
    21 January 2010 at 19:58
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    Jon, I completely disagree with your points. Yes, you’re right; more people are getting caught because of new technology. What you have failed to note, however, is that it is now easier to find sources to plagiarise from online. If I want, I could type a few key words into Google Scholar or Jtor and it would allow me to scan whole books for this word. Other people’s material is easier to find and therefore easier to plagiarise from.

    Finally, your accusation of tabloid journalism has cut deep. This story has taken a period of months to construct. It has taken great intuition from the writer and a great deal of patience on his part. If anything, this article is a good piece of investigative journalism. Instead of repeating the same old garbage from local news, he has actively sought new and fascinating facts.

  • Jon Swaint
    21 January 2010 at 20:11
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    It’s not a terrible story, it’s just the overpromotion and, frankly, hype I have a problem with.

    I would even venture to say that the headline is false. The headline says plagiarism has risen 700% at the unviersity. In fact you don’t KNOW that, and very likely you’re completely wrong. All you know about is the reported figures, which for various reasons may not match up to the reality in the slightest.

    So it’s really just attention-grabbing, factually-distorting mumbo jumbo. What would have been an interesting story has been inflated to make it look more interesting than it is, and, in the process, all credibility has been lost

  • Angus
    21 January 2010 at 21:17
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    I’m sure the tabloids could come up with a far more imaginative headline, this one is timid even by a broadsheet’s standards. And since when have you ever seen a headline that wasn’t attention-grabbing? Isn’t that what a headline is supposed to do? If the title of this article had been ‘plagiarism up a little bit at the university’, nobody would have read it.

    Why is the author ‘very likely completely wrong’ about his figures anyway? Surely, given that the figures were published under the freedom of information act, we can presume that they are correct?

  • Jon Swaint
    21 January 2010 at 21:30
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    The author is almost certainly correct in saying that reported plagiarism figures are up 700%. That’s not in dispute by anybody.

    What he’s almost certainly wrong about is that plagiarism in general is up 700%.

    This is because there’s a clear difference between reported plagiarism and actual plagiarism. Why this difference? Because in the last few years Nottingham (in line with other universities) has started using software created to detect plagiarism among essays. In most batches of submitted work, some essays will be scanned and checked against a central database to test for plagiarism.

    It’s clear that this would increase the rates of reported plagiarism since previously the ONLY ways someone could be caught would be through a single lecturer intuitively identifying separate essays as having been copied off each other, or by a student “grassing up” the people involved.

    Hence the fact that 700% more people are being caught for plagiarism does not equal 700% more plagiarism being committed. It’s a bit like arguing that, since 900% more people have been caught downloading child porn since the advent of computers, there are 900% more paedophiles than before that.

    So my problem isn’t so much with the headline being attention-grabbing. It’s with it being attention-grabbing through stretching the facts. You know that there’s 700% more reported plagiarism but you have NO IDEA how much more actual plagiarism there is, and it’d be ridiculous to suggest that you do.

  • Angus
    22 January 2010 at 00:16
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    But the headline doesn’t claim that ‘actual’ plagiarism is up 700%, just as it doesn’t claim that ‘reported’ plagiarism is. It is entirely your own presumption that it is referring to actual plagiarism.

    And everything that you’ve said above was addressed in the quotes from the university in the article. If anything, the article demonstrated the misconception over reported and actual plagiarism, concluding that it was in fact only reported plagiarism that we know for certain has increased.

  • Jon Swaint
    22 January 2010 at 06:38
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    What a ridiculous comment. If a headline says “plagiarism up 700%”, you can’t expect the reader to be immediately questioning whether that’s real or merely reported plagiarism. Since there are no qualifiers, the headline is saying it’s real plagiarism. Period.

    If you saw a headline saying bacon butty eating was up 80%, would you be expected to ask yourself whether it was the real figure, or just the figure that a bacon butty seller on the street told some journalist? Obviously the former. This is why even tabloids tend to qualify their more shaky headlines (with stuff like “up as much as” or “according to” inserted in to at least maintain a veneer of accuracy – more than was in this article).

    Also I’m not relying on the university quote here for this knowledge on their plagiarism reporting systems. It’s just, well, pretty common knowledge. My course lecturers chatted about it quite a bit, and it’s a feature of most universities these days.

  • cvbnm
    22 January 2010 at 10:08
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    No Jon, I’d always assume figures like this in articles are about reported events as there is no way of knowing anything else. A lot of people do think about how newspapers get their evidence, which doesn’t make it invalid, as its just about impossible to know the ‘real’ figures. Good point about the difference between real and reported figures, but that doesn’t reflect badly on the article.

  • Rayjohns
    22 January 2010 at 19:47
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    I’m with Jon – it’s a misleading headline. It’s the number “caught” that’s up 700%, not the amount of plagiarism actually taking place.
    The number has risen 700% over 4 years; does this lessen the shock value of the headline?
    Turnitin makes great claims for its deterrent effect. This surely argues that the number of pieces of work on which students plagiarised should have fallen since 2004 – we cannot know because we don’t know how many instances there were. (How’s about submitting 2004 papers to Turnitin and getting a measure of how much did get through before Turnitin was introduced at the university?)
    The last paragraph in the article sums up the position nicely. Come back in a year or two and we might know more?

  • Bev Genolds
    25 February 2010 at 22:07
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    Yeah, it’s a sham.

    Even this article was someone else’s.

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