Plagiarism on the fall at UK universities

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by Frances Marsh

The instances of plagiarism on university campuses have decreased dramatically according to the plagiarism checker technology service Turnitin. The firm’s figures show that serious cases of plagiarism have fallen by 60% in recent years.

7.7% of essays assessed by the detection software in 2005 comprised more than 75% material not the author’s own but by 2012, the figure had dropped to 3.1%.

Turnitin suggests that the plummeting number of cases of majority unoriginal essays and dissertations is down to the creation of the Plagiarism Advisory Service in 2002.

Due to a burgeoning ‘cut-and-paste culture’ academic institutions collaborated to form what is now known as Plagiarism Advice, initially providing Turnitin free to all Higher Education Institutions.

Turnitin has said that plagiarism decreases year on year at institutions where its services are utilised, which is now the case for 98% of UK institutions.

Durham University is one such institution using the plagiarism software, which scans work and compares it to millions of books and journal articles in their database.

According to The Telegraph’s ‘University cheating league table’, Durham had one of the lowest number of incidents involving plagiarism with only 5 recorded in the academic year 2009/10.

Helen Fitzmaurice, a member of Grey College, believes that Durham students know about academic honesty, are very aware of plagiarism and concerned about avoiding it. She noted, “if we’re caught it would affect our marks”.

However she added that students are less apprehensive with formative work, when they know it is not submitted to Turnitin or strictly regulated.

Some critics have argued that this decrease in plagiarism can be attributed to failures in the Turnitin software, which is not as rigorous in checks on work as many would think. Still, Helen believes that most Durham students are too afraid to try and elude detection by Turnitin.

The dramatic decrease in plagiarism at UK institutions suggests that whilst technology may have made cheating easier than ever, it has also provided a solution in the form of a deterrent.

Photograph: Tamsin White

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  1. Martin King
    Apr 08, 2013 - 03:34 PM

    I’d be very interested to hear more about the methodology employed in this research. For example, Turnitin is in fact a similarity checker and it compares submitted essays with its large database of previously submitted work, webpages, e-books and journals. Whether plagiarism has occurred is a matter for the marker to decide.

    Is this research based only on ‘Originality Scores’ or were markers interviewed? Without human intervention, how can Turnitin determine whether a submission is a well-informed literature review which will generate a high score, or a completely original piece of work with no references to the outside world?

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