Student plagiarism at 'alarming levels'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 December, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 December, 2008, 12:00am

A group of overseas and local academics discussed measures to counter the rampant practice of plagiarism among university students at a workshop this week.

Organised by Shue Yan University, the workshop, Combating Plagiarism in a Globalised Higher Education Environment: An International Perspective, explored why students plagiarise and measures to combat the problem.

Don McCabe, a business professor at Rutgers University in the US, said 'the urge to succeed' and 'close bonds between students' were possible reasons for the practice.

'Some students cheat as they think the courses are too hard for them and the faculty is being unreasonable,' he said.

Professor McCabe said a lack of awareness about what constituted plagiarism was also to blame.

'Definitions of cheating are changing because of the increasing access to electronic information,' he said. 'Some students conceive what they are doing is not actually cheating and some think there aren't any problems with plagiarism.'

Tony Hung Tong-ning, of Baptist University's Language Centre, blamed educators who saw their role as 'transmitters of knowledge' for unconsciously abetting the practice.

'Some set assignments that merely call for regurgitation of existing knowledge,' Professor Hung said. 'The assignments are turned into trivial exercises in searching for information online ... it's an invitation to plagiarise. Teachers should set questions that require analyses of issues.'

Professor Hung said many of the cheating culprits were 'lazy' and 'apathetic' students.

'The Hong Kong education system claims to nurture the whole-person development of students ... but many university students [are reluctant] to engage in enquiry and discover knowledge themselves.'

With only 60 plagiarism cases lodged with the University of Hong Kong's disciplinary committee in the past eight years, David Gardner, from the Centre for Applied English Studies, said the convoluted systems for dealing with plagiarism meant many cases went unreported.

Jude Carroll, staff and educational development consultant with Oxford Brooks University, said universities had yet to wake up to the severity of the problem.

'There are 38 universities in Sweden and only 200 cases [of plagiarism] were reported last year,' she said, adding that plagiarism had reached alarming levels.

'In the UK, essay banks are doing a thriving business. The industry is worth GBP200 million (HK$2.29 billion) a year now.'

She said universities needed to adopt a holistic approach to deal with plagiarism.

'There has to be better detection and universities have to train teachers to spot it and review policy and procedures for dealing with cases,' she said.