Leader: Cheats mustn't prosper

July 2, 2004

Plagiarism is the subject of the moment in higher education. Hardly a week goes by without the launch of some system to combat a practice that is perceived to be sweeping universities and colleges. There may be an element of exaggerated moral panic, but the latest survey suggests that cheating is more widespread than many would care to admit. Many students seem unable to resist the "cut-and-paste" culture that offers an easier route to success than hours spent toiling in the library.

The optimistic view of the worldwide obsession with plagiarism is that the attention given to the subject will help persuade students not to take the risk. But that will come about only if offenders are both caught and punished severely. Recent evidence suggests that many academics and institutions are far too lenient. Universities have a duty to ensure that their students understand where paraphrasing ends and plagiarism begins, but once the boundaries have been established, those who overstep the mark must take responsibility for their actions.

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