Saturday, 2 January 2016

Plagiary

The Times today reports on a ‘crisis’ in universities, with high levels of student cheating, disproportionately committed by overseas students. The Times story is here, behind a paywall – I’m loathe to give Mr Murdoch any money, so I’ll summarise from other media sources.

From The Times, 2 January 2016
It seems that the Times surveyed UK universities and found that nearly 50,000 had been ‘caught cheating’ over the past three years, with 362 being expelled. In a subset of 70 universities- presumably those which collated data via fee status – overseas students accounted for 35% of cheating cases, but made up only 12% of the student population.

Thanks to The Guardian for their summary of the Times story.

The story focuses on plagiarism – with Geoffrey Alderman asserting that ‘type 1’ plagiarism (copying someone else’s words) is declining, with ‘type 2’ plagiarism (paying someone else to write your coursework for you) is on the increase. No data are given to support this, but anecdotally it feels plausible.

It is an interesting issue. To understand it better you’d need to discuss the nature of plagiarism detection (much more sophisticated than it used to be) and issues around the nature of assessment, and what it is meant to demonstrate. One thing which I’ve noticed across in dealing with student tissues in a number of different UK universities is that expectations of higher education, and of the role in examinations of independent thought, vary across education systems. In some systems, memorising and repeating back the words of authorities – your professor, books and journals – seems to be considered good. So students who copy may, at first, think that they’re doing the right thing. This seems to me to be an educational issue more than a moral one.

Notice also the emphasis on overseas students cheating disproportionately. Multiplying out the proportions, some 32,500 home and EU students were caught cheating over three years, compared to 17,500 overseas students. Yes, it’s disproportionate. I’d be interested to see how many of these were ‘first offence’ plagiarism as opposed to repeat offences (or indeed other sorts of exam cheating.) If you factor in the cultural/educational differences it doesn’t seem like a crisis or a moral panic. But are we meant to understand that overseas students are somehow lowering standards? If so, it’s all grist to Theresa May’s immigration mill. And very unpleasant bread it makes, as well.

I don’t expect we’ve heard the last of this – I’ll be reading ministerial speeches closely to see whether a ‘cheating foreigner’ theme begins to emerge.

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