Holey clothes expose fakes

March 9, 2007

Heard the one about the university applicant whose most vivid childhood memory was burning a hole in their pyjamas at the age of eight?

So had 234 other school-leavers, all of whom included this tale in their personal statements in applications sent to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

This glaring example of plagiarism is highlighted in a new report to Ucas on about 2,500 incidents spotted in personal statements among a sample of 50,000 applications for places on courses staring next academic year.

Others include 370 statements containing the opening line, "A fascination for how the human body works...", and 175 that related how an "elderly and infirm grandfather" had inspired the applicant to study medicine.

The report, which the Ucas board was due to consider this week, marks the start of a drive to spot and halt plagiarism and fraud in university applications.

For the next applications cycle, Ucas plans to add plagiarism-detection software to its armoury of antifraud measures.

Anthony McClaran, the Ucas chief executive, said the study had shown that plagiarism was more common in applications submitted near the closing date, and that the culprits were more likely to use free web-based sources for advice on personal statements than commercial services.

"The good news is that, from what we have looked at so far, this is not a huge problem - with plagiarism detected in only 5 per cent of applications.

There is software available that will enable us to detect copying and provide a further level of assurance to universities that the applications they are looking at contain no evidence of plagiarism," he said.

Ucas is also boosting its efforts to detect bogus students, particularly from overseas. It has doubled the number of investigators in its verification unit to help tackle a rise in the number of fraudulent applications.

Last year, 1,515 applications were cancelled because of fraud. This represented a rise of 30 per cent over the previous year. In the year before that, the number had increased by 50 per cent.

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