Students providing replica replies are cleared of plagiarism - because module leader supplied model answers in advance of exams

November 19, 2004

"There appears to be a serious plagiarism problem," a Middlesex University tutor wrote in an urgent email tocolleagues thissummer.

A large batch of exam papers from a group of undergraduates sitting a computing degree at the university's lucrative campus in China contained answers that were "replicas of the model answers given in the solutions for marking", the tutor said.

The email angered Alan Murphy, director of curriculum and learning for the School of Computing, who had an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu .

Last term about 30 scripts from British students turned out to be the same as the model answers. Dr Murphy replied to the tutor: "It was my understanding that the (UK students) had received these 'answers' from you as part of a revision session." Plagiarism was ruled out and the students' papers were accordingly passed."

Now, it seemed, the same thing had happened again in China at one of four overseas bases where students take Middlesex's computing degrees.

In answer to the concerns, Lei Zhu, one of the China-based tutors, wrote a report denying plagiarism. It says: "From the university's website, I was able to download past exam papers from which I selected many questions.

"I had thought that by showing students how to answer the questions they would be able to improve their exam performance... I understand that essay questions seem to be more difficult for our students because of their poor English capabilities and self-study skills. I felt it might help the students if they had a few example questions with developed answers.

"A large portion of this semester's exam is made up of previously asked questions, (and) questions which have appeared on past exams are available to the students. This may explain why the answers provided by the students turn out to be the exact replicas of the model answers. Many Chinese students are very good at memorising. It would appear that there was no overt cheating during the exam and the invigilation was strict."

Ken Goulding, Middlesex's deputy vice-chancellor, said: "There have been two incidents concerning alleged plagiarism or cheating in the BIS (business information systems) module. In both cases these were investigated and no evidence was found of plagiarism or cheating.

"In both cases, the university module leader provided revision materials for students that related closely to questions on the examination paper.

"The university regards this practice as unacceptable. With the full agreement of the external examiners, students were not, therefore, penalised. The module leader was disciplined and has left the university."

The module leader was unavailable for comment.

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