Higher Education Integrity Service will help to tackle disparities in policy and penalties. Phil Baty reports.
A new service dedicated to helping academics fight the rise of student plagiarism will open next month.
The Higher Education Integrity Service will be run jointly by the Higher Education Academy and the Joint Information Systems Committee, which supports higher education's IT infrastructure.
The body, to be officially launched on September 1, will initially focus on policy and procedures for tackling plagiarism and will promote the use of US style "honour codes" for students.
A recent study by the Jisc Plagiarism Advisory Service (PAS) found that staff were confused about how to handle cases of plagiarism. Penalties for the offence vary dramatically between institutions and even within them, ranging from a small fine to expulsion for similar offences.
In her annual report published this week, Baroness Deech, the independent adjudicator of student complaints, revealed that she had overturned a university's decision to expel a student found guilty of plagiarism.
She said that her office "condemns plagiarism but its view is that the degree of culpability can vary significantly depending on the extent of the plagiarism, whether it was a first offence, whether intentional or reckless, the steps taken by the university to make students aware of the rules and the personal circumstances of the student.
"A university that applies a very limited range of penalties for a wide spectrum of situations or applies its rules in a restrictive way may be criticised," she said.
Gill Rowell, Jisc-PAS senior advisory officer, said that a key part of the new integrity service's role would be to promote the adoption of "honour codes" - pledges that students are required to sign committing them to honesty and academic integrity.
Northumbria University has drafted such a code, which will be handed to all students joining the university in September. The code, on a credit-card-sized card, includes ten statements from the university outlining its obligation to students and ten statements outlining students' obligations, including to work with integrity.
The body has spun out from the Jisc-PAS, which was originally set up with a relatively narrow remit to advise on technological issues, such as using the plagiarism detection software Turnitin. But mounting interest from academics led to its work broadening beyond this original remit.
Jisc-PAS will remain in place and focus exclusively on technological issues relating to preventing and detecting plagiarism, and the new integrity service will focus on non-technological issues.
Fiona Duggan, head of advice and guidance at Jisc-PAS, will run the new service.
News, page 6
Manchester University saw reported cases of plagiarism increase from 49 in 2003-2004 to 78 in 2004-05 and 99 in 2005-06.
Birmingham University's central student conduct and appeals team heard three cases of alleged plagiarism in 2006-07, down from five the previous year.
Nottingham University's central academic offences committee handled 17 cases in 2005-06, down from 23 in 2004-05, in 2003-04 and 44 cases in 2002-03.
This year, Oxford University detected 21 cases of plagiarism. Eight students were penalised and a further three were expelled.