80% admit to cheating

January 23, 2003

Students on Australian campuses are copying material from the internet and textbooks, submitting work by previous students, collaborating on assignments and hiring someone more knowledgeable in a subject to sit their examinations.

Surveys have found that about 80 per cent of undergraduates admitted to cheating, while 54 per cent of postgraduates said they had cheated at least once during their courses.

In one investigation, researchers sought anonymous responses from students enrolled at Monash and Swinburne universities on their past practices and attitudes to 18 types of cheating.

The survey covered almost 700 students in information technology, business and psychology departments. Students were asked if they had ever plagiarised material from the internet or textbooks, submitted assignments by previous students, hired or asked someone else to sit an examination, or collaborated with others on work intended to be completed individually.

The most common forms of cheating included plagiarism and sharing work with other students for assignments. Taking notes into examinations and hiring or asking someone to take a student's place were the least common.

But student leaders criticised the findings. They said that many of those classed as cheats had not cheated deliberately. Collaborating with other students on assignments was common and could not be classed as cheating, they said.

National Union of Students president Daniel Kyriacou said the prevalence of collaboration on assignments needed to be seen in the context of increasing financial pressures on students. Mr Kyriacou said most students were employed for at least 20 hours a week.

A survey of 2,150 lecturers at 12 Australian universities found that most believed plagiarism had increased over the past two decades. More than one in five academics said it had increased because of the availability of electronic text and the practice of giving weight in final assessments to work completed during the year.

An investigation last year of plagiarism at six Victorian universities revealed that more than one in 12 students had used the internet to copy substantial portions of their essays. The project assessed almost 2,000 essays from 17 subjects.

Web crawlers developed by Turnitin.com assessed the essays for similarities to material available on the internet or in those by other students. Essays with 25 per cent or more of the text deemed to be similar were checked by the researchers to see if the students had made attributions.

Students had plagiarised material from other essays as well as from more than 400 web sources, including at least five dedicated "cheat" sites. A consortium has been established so the software can be installed across the six universities.

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