Increases in the licensing cost of the plagiarism detection service Turnitin is causing concern at a number of UK universities, Times Higher Education understands.
According to emails sent by members of a Turnitin discussion forum, several institutions have complained about the price and performance of the service, which is used by the vast majority of UK universities.
In one email on the public forum, dated January 2014, a University of Glasgow employee says that the subscription charge initially quoted for 2013-14 was 67 per cent higher than it had been for 2012-13. After some negotiation, the increase “dropped to a 31 per cent rise”, he writes on the Jiscmail discussion group.
THE understands that the quote for 2014-15 was once again significantly higher – about 34 per cent up on the previous year – with negotiations leading to an actual rise of about 13 per cent.
An email from another Glasgow employee, dated April 2013, states that the initial quotation for the renewal of the Turnitin licence was “in the region of £73,000 for a three-year subscription, [or] about £25,000” for a year. After receiving the information, the employee says she “[fell] off my chair and exclaimed out loud at the cost”.
“I do not believe that it represents value for money, particularly given the shaky performance of Turnitin recently,” she adds.
A third email, from January this year, states that The Open University had seen “a significant increase in fees requested”, while a fourth – from an employee at Cranfield University – claims that Turnitin is “heading towards the end of a charmed life” in the UK. According to a Turnitin Twitter feed, as of 28 July, there had been 10 occasions this year when the UK service has been down for scheduled maintenance or not operating at full capacity.
Meanwhile, a University of London Computer Centre blog is tracking LeSoCo college (the merged Lewisham and Southwark Colleges) as it trials an alternative plagiarism detection tool, adopted after Turnitin became, the blog says, too expensive.
Kerr Gardiner, head of learning technology and media production at the University of Glasgow, said that his institution was also “exploring alternatives” to Turnitin after becoming increasingly dissatisfied with its performance.
“I have been disappointed by the regular outages of the service and by the way in which Turnitin responds to these issues,” he said. “We don’t tend to get any more information than is available on the Turnitin Twitter feeds. We are also very concerned about the large price increases, which are not at present being accompanied by improvements in the product.”
A spokesman for Turnitin said that use of its service was at an all-time high, with a 400 per cent increase in submissions in the past five years and more staff and students using the service.
“This means Turnitin institutions get significantly better value, per pound spent, than they ever have in the past,” he said. “We license per user, so as the number of users goes up, the cost increases, but so too does the total value and time saved by the institution.”
He said that the pricing model, based on Higher Education Statistics Agency figures for the number of full-time students at each institution, had not changed in five years.
Many institutions had received “substantial initial discounts” in previous years, he continued, which explained why some were seeing large percentage increases. He added that Turnitin’s capabilities had “significantly broadened” in recent years.