Plagiarism among university students is widespread but privacy restrictions are preventing academics sharing information about the cheats, according to New Zealand academics. A study by researchers at Massey University found plagiarism most common among foreign undergraduates studying full-time. But the researchers said detection of repeat offenders was hampered by confidentiality regulations. Academics were reluctant to pass on details of students who were known to have cheated to colleagues who also taught the students because they believed this contravened privacy laws. Speaking at the international conference of the Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia at the University of Sydney, Massey lecturer Robert Goddard also said academics were not always consistent in deciding what constituted plagiarism or in applying penalties. Dr Goddard and fellow researcher Romauld Rudzki used plagiarism checking software to analyse 1,000 student assignments for evidence of cheating. Of all those checked, 15 per cent who were found by the researchers to have plagiarised material were awarded an A grade. A further 51 per cent received a B grade. Many markers were not tough enough on students who had been caught cheating, Dr Goddard said. Some lecturers might fear repercussions from awarding no marks if a student had cheated. But he said that in cases where students who had plagiarised were awarded a zero mark, none had complained to their heads of department. There was no agreement among delegates to the conference about the best way of preventing plagiarism. The issue was complicated by confidentiality requirements and students misunderstanding what constituted plagiarism. Dr Goddard said universities should consider establishing formal data bases to record details of students who had been found to have plagiarised other people's work in their assignments. Other speakers suggested using detection software to help students recognise what constituted plagiarism. This would develop students' understanding of academic honesty and support the development of students as ethical professionals.