Students may be required to put coursework through an electronic plagiarism filter when an online detection system is launched in September. It will be part of a national plagiarism advisory service commissioned by the Joint Information Systems Committee.
Gill Chester, the project manager, said participating institutions would need to get students to sign an agreement. In future, this could be included in the registration process.
The need for the filter has been driven by the rise of "cheat websites", where students can buy essays, and the increasing amount of information on the internet.
Jisc believes the plagiarism problem has worsened in the past five years due to students' growing need to work part-time. It also believes that "widening participation and the move to mass continued education" means that "some students may be less committed to a full learning experience and instead concentrate on achieving the final certificate".
Ms Chester said there was strong support from higher and further education for an electronic detection service. But she said the system was only one part of an anti-plagiarism strategy and said it was more about helping institutions identify plagiarism than attempting to deter students.
Ms Chester said that the service, for which tenders were being called, would highlight text that matched the sources it drew on and would not take account of quotation marks. It would then be up to academic staff to judge whether plagiarism had occurred.
Owain James, president of the National Union of Students, said measures that ensured fairness were welcome but added: "Universities must recognise the key role collaboration plays in a successful learning process and ensure students are fully aware of what is acceptable. Obviously, the devil will be in the detail. We would not want to see the erosion of academic trust between lecturer and student, or further unnecessary burdens on lecturers."
The advisory service will offer advice for institutions and user-friendly guidance and training tools for students and a directory of information on its website. It will also offer workshops.
• Fifty universities and 50 colleges are being sought to participate in a two-year pilot service that will offer access to radio and television programmes after they have been broadcast. The venture has been launched by the British Universities Film and Video Council and the Educational Recording Agency.