verish debate over how universities deal with student cheats took a new twist this week when it emerged that Middlesex University allows students found guilty of plagiarism to retake failed courses if they pay up to £1,400 in extra fees, writes Phil Baty.
Middlesex's "resits for cash" policy has raised concerns among some of its academic staff.
But the university contends that it would be unfair to other students resitting courses not to charge student cheats.
Middlesex confirmed that its standard penalty for plagiarism was to fail students and require them to re-register for modules. Tuition fees for the retaken modules are £190 for home students, and £1,400 for overseas students.
A student who pays to retake a module can obtain a maximum mark of 40 per cent -the pass threshold.
Some Middlesex staff have strong reservations about the policy. One computing school lecturer warned that she will "hesitate" to fail students found guilty of plagiarism because she is so opposed to the procedure.
Minutes from a June 2003 staff meeting for the business information systems courses at Middlesex quote senior lecturer in computing, Geetha Abeysinghe, saying: "The extra work we make by asking them to retake the module is punishment enough in my view. I regret that I gave a U (fail) grade for so many students. In future I will hesitate to give a U unless it is a major offence.... I strongly oppose the financial penalty."
Middlesex said that students who failed a module could pay to retake it and that students who failed through plagiarism were treated no differently.
"Any student who has to retake a module as a result of plagiarism is treated in the same way in terms of fees as a student who retakes the module following failure," said the spokeswoman. "It would not be fair to excuse the fee for a plagiarist retaking a failed module but not to do so for an 'honest' student."
Bob Johnson, a consultant who wrote a report on assessment practices last year, said that while it was common for universities to allow failed students to pay to re-take a module, he had not heard of allowing students failed as a result of plagiarism to pay for a retake.