UK leads Europe in the fight against plagiarism

Some continental efforts to ensure integrity are ‘primitive’, study finds

October 10, 2013

Source: Alamy

Copy that?: systems to promote good practice are patchy across the EU

The UK has the most mature system in Europe for promoting academic integrity among students, a study has found.

The analysis looked at factors such as universities’ use of plagiarism software, consistency of sanctions, transparency, training, efficacy of prevention policies and efforts to address the issue at a national level.

“There’s no doubt that in the UK we’re a lot more advanced than most countries, in most aspects,” said Irene Glendinning, academic manager for student experience at Coventry University and principal investigator on the Impact of Policies for Plagiarism in Higher Education across Europe project.

The study - based on a voluntary and anonymous survey of about 5,000 students, teachers and senior managers, and on interviews with representatives of national higher education bodies - found Austria and Sweden to have the next most advanced systems, followed by the Republic of Ireland and Malta.

Bulgaria and Spain were tied in last place among European Union nations, both performing poorly on all criteria except their knowledge and understanding of academic integrity. Germany, Italy and France were all ranked in the lower half of the table.

Ms Glendinning said that unlike in the UK, where efforts to prevent and detect plagiarism have been growing since 2001, in Spain students reported that tools to detect plagiarism were rarely used, and only one-third said there were policies for dealing with the problem.

In other countries such as France, some respondents suggested that academic integrity was not an issue that needed to be addressed at the undergraduate stage, she added.

It was surprising how “primitive” systems for dealing with academic integrity were in countries such as Germany and Finland, which had otherwise excellent reputations for education, Ms Glendinning said.

“We found some pockets of good practice there, but most people really are in the Dark Ages in comparison with what’s going on in the UK and anglophone countries such as Australia and the US,” she said.

Another surprising finding was that across Europe, students were more likely than teachers to believe that policies and sanctions were applied fairly and consistently, Ms Glendinning added.

She cautioned that some scores for low-performing countries were based on very few respondents, despite significant efforts at recruitment. But she added that this itself could indicate that the situation is even worse than the data suggest.

“We suspect the reason we’re not getting any engagement in those countries is because this is not seen as an issue there,” she said.

Ms Glendinning also acknowledged that the survey looked at policies and their implementation rather than the prevalence of plagiarism because, she said, such data simply did not exist. “There’s no doubt that there’s a lot of plagiarism around … but there are no statistics anywhere,” she said. Consistent recording would mean “we can have a handle on whether what we’re doing is actually having an effect”.

The full results of the project, including country breakdowns, will be published by the end of November. These will include recommendations, drawn up with project partners in Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Poland and Cyprus. Among suggestions for the UK will be that the Quality Assurance Agency should, as part of existing audits, require institutions to explain their plagiarism policies and demonstrate their effectiveness and consistency.

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