It may seem counter-intuitive but postgraduates are more likely to commit plagiarism than undergraduates, according to information obtained by The Independent under the Freedom of Information Act.
Twice as many postgraduates were guilty of plagiarism at the University of Glasgow as undergraduates in the academic year 2008/9. Figures released by the university show that 0.26 per cent of undergraduate students committed plagiarism compared to 0.57 per cent of all postgraduates.
Other research supports this. A report by the JISC (Joint Information System Committee) estimated in 2008 that an average of 1.19 per cent of postgraduate students are involved in cases of plagiarism, compared to 0.67 per cent of undergraduates.
The JISC report suggested this was because “plagiarism is simply treated as a more serious issue at postgraduate level”, resulting in more cases being recorded formally. Although this may be the case, our statistics suggest that there may be more to the disparity.
It seems that, in the Glasgow figures, a higher proportion of international students commit plagiarism and, when compared to undergraduates, a larger percentage of the postgraduate population is made up of international students, resulting in a larger proportion of postgraduate students being found to have committed plagiarism.
The figures from the University of Glasgow show that 1.76 per cent of all overseas postgraduate students from outside the EU committed plagiarism, compared to 0.11 per cent of all postgraduate students from the UK. Furthermore, around 25 per cent of the postgraduate population at the University of Glasgow came from outside the EU, compared to 3.5 per cent of their undergraduate population.
According to Aled Dilwyn Fisher, the Students’ Union general secretary at the London School of Economics, cultural background influences the way that students approach the question of copying material.
“Many cases involve students who have experience in other countries’ educational and cultural environments where different referencing systems are used – or, indeed, where no referencing systems are used at all,” says Fisher who sits on the college’s board that judges plagiarism cases. “These candidates often have absolutely no intention to deceive. There are usually language difficulties involved.”
He remembers advising one student who was looking up the definition of “plagiarism” in their native language when he met them. “They had no idea that they had done something wrong,” he says.
Since 2004, an independent body, The Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA), has been established to receive complaints from students, and has found itself getting a lot of complaints about plagiarism.
“More than one-half the plagiarism-related postgraduate complaints come from international students with citizenship outside the European Union, whereas less than one-third of undergraduate complaints about plagiarism come from this source,” says Rob Behrens, who is head of the OIA.
Alison Bone, a principal lecturer at the University of Brighton, who has published many articles on plagiarism and assessment practices, says: “A great many Asian students have been taught very differently to British students. Their perception of education is that you sit and listen to the teacher and replicate what was said. That’s just their view. They think the more you reproduce the work of experts, the better it is.”
With this in mind, you might expect that Asian students would receive less advice about plagiarism from their own universities than British students do. But that is not necessarily the case.
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