Essay firm joins copy fight

October 20, 2006

Bank of 'model' answers is opened to plagiarism detectives, writes Phil Baty

Lecturers' jobs are about to get much easier with the news that Coursework.Info, the UK's biggest provider of "model" essays, which students have been known to pass off as their own work, will hand over its entire database of more than 100,000 essays to the university sector's plagiarism-detection system.

As The Times Higher revealed in June, Acumen Professional Intelligence, which owns several websites that sell essays to students, confirmed this week that it had agreed to add its extensive database of work to the database managed by TurnitinUK - the plagiarism-detection system used by 80 per cent of UK universities.

"This means that any student attempting to submit a Coursework.Info essay as his or her own work will be identified by TurnitinUK," said Will Murray, director of the UK Plagiarism Advisory Service, run by the Joint Information Systems Committee, which is in charge of information technology in higher education.

TurnitinUK is a software package that produces an "originality" report, highlighting copied passages after searching through billions of web pages.

Peter Taylor, operations director of Acumen PI, said: "We've always promoted academic best practice to our members. Now we have taken on board their overwhelming support for further eliminating plagiarism as the first step on a programme to clarify the role of Coursework.Info as a valuable educational resource."

At a plagiarism conference organised by Jisc this year, Mr Taylor said that he offered a legitimate service to students who could learn from the model answers to help formulate their own ideas. But he said that if such services were "demonised", students would be less likely to cite their use of model answers and more likely to plagiarise. He says in a statement this week that he hopes to encourage other coursework libraries to follow suit.

"We believe this action is the cornerstone to a formal code of conduct for the whole industry," he says.

Coursework.Info allows students to share GCSE, A-level and university coursework. It is not clear if Acumen's other essay-bank websites, including AcademicDB.com, which boasts more than 16,000 essays at university level, will be submitted to Turnitin.

Jisc said that there was overwhelming support for the move.

Mike Reddy, a lecturer at the University of Wales, Newport, and an expert in counter-plagiarism measures, said: "Adding the Acumen database does indeed allow us to feel sure that their work is not abused by students."

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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