Staff ignore cheating

June 23, 2006

Phil Baty reports from the international plagiarism conference

Many tutors are simply unwilling to tackle plagiarism, a study finds

A substantial number of lecturers cannot be bothered to report cases of student plagiarism, in spite of university campaigns to stamp it out, according to new evidence.

A paper presented to the second international plagiarism conference in Gateshead reveals that, despite a major anti-plagiarism action plan, as few as per cent of staff in one Napier University school chose to "engage in efforts to report plagiarism".

In a separate paper, Amanda Relph of Hertfordshire University's Business School reports that staff were choosing to ignore cases of misconduct "where the time and effort involved exceeds the perceived benefits of operating the prescribed procedure".

She said that one academic conduct officer at Hertfordshire's Business School reported that a colleague had not taken a case forward because the lecturer "couldn't be arsed" to fill in the paperwork.

The Napier research, based on a study of staff in the School of Computer Science, which had been the most proactive in addressing student cheating, concludes that the number of academics ignoring plagiarism issues "remains a key matter of concern".

Christina Mainka, academic development adviser at Napier, who presented the findings, said that staff interest in engaging in the issue was so low that she had to cancel a number of staff development events, and even the university's designated academic conduct officers were failing to carry out their responsibilities.

Between 2002 and 2005, between and 38 per cent of staff engaged in the issue each year. The university introduced new anti-plagiarism software to check students' work for copying in August 2005.

But by the second term of academic year 2005-06, "six out of 15 schools had only one or no academic member of staff using it", the paper reports.

Dr Mainka blamed the poor attitude of staff on a lack of support from the university. "The academic conduct officers are not compensated for their time, and staff are under extreme pressure," she said.

She revealed that in one school this year, an academic misconduct officer had to deal with 40 cases of collusion in a cohort of 300 students, but did not invoke the correct procedures because of pressure of work.

She said it was hard to establish why the majority of staff were not engaging, because only those already committed to the issue had returned questionnaires.

Among these staff members Dr Mainka found high levels of frustration that colleagues were not taking the issue seriously. In one survey, 64 per cent of respondents said that the school was consistently following and complying with policy. One said that other staff were refusing to engage "because it would mean them having to do some work".

Ms Relph said that her study had found that 52 per cent of staff did not use the detection software. "They get no training and the University of Hertfordshire is supposed to be quite good at this," she said.

She said she knew of one case in the business school where an academic conduct officer said on learning of a new plagiarism case "Take it away. Not now!"

She said that other studies had shown that staff found reporting plagiarism to be "stressful and discomforting, tedious and an emotional drain".

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