Leader: High cost of a prose job

April 7, 2006

What amounts to cheating? When is help for students too much help? The answers are not clear, as the latest row over the "spoon-feeding" of students shows. Providing students with lists of proofreaders is seen by Bradford University as legitimate support for those with poor English. It could be argued that it is better to give students an approved list of grammarians than leave them to the mercy of unofficial "experts".

There is nothing wrong with providing remedial classes for students. They equip them with the skills necessary to study fluently and effectively. But sanctioning the use of professional help not only blurs the distinction between what is and what is not students' own work but also gives an unfair advantage to those who can afford to pay for the privilege.

The boundaries of acceptable academic practice are constantly being challenged by those student "customers" who expect to pick up a degree at the graduation checkout irrespective of the effort they may or may not have put in. Against this background, legitimising the payment of proofreaders to improve work is surely a step too far. If universities cannot teach students to think and express their thoughts for themselves, what are they for?

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