Edinburgh draws fine line between copying and cheating

August 20, 1999

Edinburgh University is refusing to brand as exam cheats almost 120 computer science students, despite admitting they collaborated to a degree "beyond what is acceptable".

The university insisted it was upholding standards by revising marks and requiring resits, after an examiners' investigation revealed "significant parts" of students' work had been copied.

A university spokeswoman said: "Cheating is a word used in the press. We have never used that word. The board of examiners was investigating apparent similarities in practical exercises, and obviously something has occurred for which they feel penalties should be imposed."

The university used copying detection software and checked internal department student emails following concerns about a practical exercise undertaken by 91 first-year students. The inquiry was then extended to a further 26 students.

The departmental board of examiners found the students' work "showed a degree of collaboration beyond what is acceptable in exercises which are intended to be completed individually". All the students will have their marks reduced, and some will have to resit a theory examination.

Email evidence revealed that "significant parts" of some students' solutions had been copied from or supplied to another student. These students will receive no marks and have this noted on their departmental records. A "small number" of students will be reported for breaching the university's code of discipline.

Edinburgh University's principal, Sir Stewart Sutherland, has said that the university's examination processes are academically rigorous, and the university takes the examination process very seriously.

The spokeswoman rejected the charge that Edinburgh was letting guilty students off the hook.

She said: "Penalties have been meted out. It is the decision of the board of examiners. These were felt the appropriate penalties to impose. The fact that the university has conducted the inquiry in such a painstaking way is clear evidence of our commitment to maintaining standards."

She acknowledged that students should be "well aware" of university and examination regulations.

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