Cheats' tariff is criminal

June 24, 2010

The proposed tariff to tackle plagiarism lacks common sense ("Plagiarism tariff: let the punishment fit the demerit points", 17 June).

If a first-year student "fails to attribute one sentence in a formative assignment", then, even if we assume the formative assignment does receive a grade, it is surely unfair to withhold all credit from the piece of work. The suggestion that this offence "scores a total of 280 points" makes it impossible to imagine what infinitesimal sin a single point might correspond to - a borrowed comma, perhaps?

At the other end of the scale, if a wholly fraudulent dissertation is submitted, the suggestion is that the offence is not even three times as bad - 625 points.

Even allowing for truncated explanations of the possible penalties, all four suggestions had something wrong with them. Surely, no credit can be awarded for a plagiarised dissertation, but it could be illegal, unjust and just plain impractical to try to take away previously awarded credit from the miscreant.

Perhaps the person to sort out this mess is the head of Sciences Po, Richard Descoings, who was profiled in the same issue ("A French revolutionary"). His experience of being "expelled from secondary school for failing a maths test" should alert him to fair and unfair penalties.

Julia Gillen, Lancaster University.

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