“Plagiarism up 700%” at University of Nottingham

Slight misinterpretation of non-comparable data

According to a shocking report in Impact, which doesn’t let facts get in the way of a sensational story, plagiarism is up 700% at the University of Nottingham:

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.

But the real issue is that the means of detecting and recording plagiarism have significantly changed and, most importantly, new software has been introduced to detect and deter plagiarism.

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.”

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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.”

All absolutely correct. Several of the comments which follow the article also acknowledge the University position and offer a helpful critique of the piece which, far from being a serious piece of investigative reporting, is in fact simply an account of the results of an FOI request. A bit like the recent report in the Sun.

4 responses to ““Plagiarism up 700%” at University of Nottingham

  1. In fairness, I think most people would look beyond the headline to what is a fair and balanced article. After all, it quotes most of the university statement verbatim. It may be a little on the sensationalist side, but it certainly got me reading!

  2. It has to be accepted that this is somewhat of a sensationalist headline. I feel it necessary to point out that this headline was created in a rush due to various sources being leaked to other press outlets.
    I feel that it is absolutely imperative to highlight that the university is also generalising in it’s response. A university spokesman said that…

    “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.”

    This is a mere guise to hide the fact that TurnItIn was not rolled out throughout every school in the university until this academic year. My school, American and Canadian studies, had a noticeable increase in plagiarism over 5 years, despite students not having to submit any work electronically until October 2009.

    Both sides are spinning this story. Impact perhaps span it too far, but that’s because we are not trained, nor paid to write these articles. The university, however, quashed this story with a paid experts and a few little white lies.

  3. Perhaps we are moving from a situation in which plagiarism was largely invisible and ill-understood amongst students. My experience (at a comparable university) has been that the real value of Turn It In has been in making students think about plagiarism and its effects.

    I’ve just started investigating the impact of Turn It In and other awareness raising activities here at Warwick, a couple of years after we in the Arts Faculty started to use Turn It In on an ad-hoc basis.

    A survey of around 7% of taught students, asking them to respond to the following statement:

    “I am confident in citing and summarizing academic sources in my essays without committing plagiarism.”

    48.82% strongly agree
    40% agree
    7.06% neutral
    5.29% disagree
    1.18% strongly disagree

    I’ll be investigating that in detail in forthcoming focus groups.

    We haven’t got any historical data on this, but i’m expecting (based on anecdotal evidence) that Turn It In has contributed to awareness in a positive way (even though we only use it lightly), and that there’s a strong anti-cheating sentiment.

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