We tackle plagiarism

March 9, 2007

Paul Shanley described Sunny Bains's vigilante approach to plagiarism management as "a trifle naive" (Letters, February 23). However, the original article contains a few misconceptions (Opinion, February 15).

In response to concerns expressed by Baroness Deech about a lack of consistency in the application of penalties for student plagiarism across the higher education sector, the Joint Information Systems Committee Plagiarism Advisory Service (Jiscpas) is undertaking national research into the nature and range of penalties applied.

Preliminary analysis of more than 100 institutions has revealed that, rather than there being widespread adherence to any one set of regulations, there is actually large variation in the policies in force, even in cases where they inherited existing regulations.

Imperial College London, for instance, sanctions a range of penalties for plagiarism depending on the severity of the case. Cutting and pasting 15 paragraphs from the web would constitute a serious offence in the majority of institutions and would usually attract a penalty significantly beyond a reprimand or a zero mark. We would, however, suggest that any assessment that can be fulfilled by copying and pasting from a few websites should be strongly reconsidered.

Regardless, Jiscpas does not believe that punitive measures are the sole solution to plagiarism but rather that a much more effective methodology is a holistic approach that includes the consideration of assessment design and training in information literacy.

Indeed, Jiscpas has recently agreed to fund a case study at Imperial that will evaluate the effectiveness of an existing online programme of skills tuition, including referencing and citation guidance, that is already embedded in 75 per cent of Imperial's undergraduate programmes.

Initiatives such as these demonstrate that despite Bains's concerns, the culture within higher education is already changing.

Will Murray and Fiona Duggan.

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