Jan 21 2011 by Johnathon Menzies, Stirling Observer Friday
Stirling University library
NEARLY 200 students were caught cheating at the University of Stirling last year.
Official statistics released this week reveal that there were at least 1169 identified cases of plagiarism throughout Scotland’s universities last year – with 198 occurring at Stirling.
The nationwide figure represents an 8 per cent increase on the previous year, when there were 1079 recorded incidents, and is the highest on record.
Academics at Edinburgh Napier claimed the unwanted top spot with 288, followed by 204 at Robert Gordon in Aberdeen, with those at the Bridge of Allan institution completing the top three.
A Stirling spokesperson said the 2009/10 figure is less than the 215 caught flouting the rules in the previous 12 months.
She added that, in total, 815 people have been found to be passing other peoples’ work off as their own in the last five years.
But she also stressed that the vast majority of offences were classed as minor and centred on incorrectly referencing sources used when compiling an essay.
Only seven individuals have been thrown off their Stirling degree course for cheating since 2005.
The spokeperson continued: “In common with many in the higher education sector, we use the ‘Turnitin’ plagiarism detection tool and also have a range of support available to help educate students on good referencing skills.
“We are committed to the highest academic standards and take a tough stance on cheating, in any form.
“Staff record and monitor cases centrally, so our records are complete – in other institutions, where this process is devolved, records may well be incomplete.
“The University of Stirling has a comprehensive policy on academic misconduct which is available on our website.
“The purchasing of an essay from whatever source is considered to be a gross breach of the rules.
“It should be noted that none of the above cases involved students submitting essays bought online.
“More than half of cases were minor infringements, relating to poor referencing style.”
A total of 46 people in Stirling’s Computer Science and Maths department were found to have committed an act of plagiarism in 2008/09, the highest number across any subject in the last five years.
A representative from the Scottish branch of the University and College Union explained modern technology presents an additional headache for the lecturers it represents.
“As information is easily available online and essays can be purchased on the internet, it may seem like an easy option for those under a great deal of pressure,” he said.
“Before the internet was widely used, people used to swap coursework. It was then up to lecturers to spot differences in students’ work.
“But, as class sizes have significantly increased and it is harder for a tutor to get to know individual students, this is not as easily done as in the past.”
Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students Scotland, cautioned: “Much of this increase in plagiarism figures will be down to improvements in catching people, as opposed to a worrying trend.
“Plagiarism is not a simple issue. Often the tiny minority of students that do resort to it, do so out of a lack of support and out of desperation.”