Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440
WEDNESDAY 29 APRIL 2009
Q440 Dr Iddon: Let us choose Alasdair
and Ed and we will start with Ed. Do you believe that in your
university plagiarism is a problem or not?
Mr Steward: I believe it is a
problem in that it exists.
Q441 Dr Iddon: When you went to the
university were you given any advice on plagiarism?
Mr Steward: Yes, as soon as you
turn up you have huge amounts of guidance on plagiarism. In every
single book that you are given there is guidance on plagiarism,
it is given out on separate sheets, it is sent out before you
even arrive at university, it is on the website, it is absolutely
everywhere because it is so crucial that you understand plagiarism
in order not to commit it. I sit on some disciplinaries for students
who have been accused of plagiarism and the two types of students
that I see are those that panic and have not done the work, and
plagiarise in order just to submit the work on time, and those
who genuinely do not understand that they have plagiarised. It
can be as simple as referencing, not putting things in quotation
marks; that counts as plagiarism, so the university is keen to
ensure that every student fully understands every aspect of plagiarism.
Q442 Dr Iddon: Where does the plagiarism
exhibit itself the most, is it in essays, is it in modular coursework,
is it in the laboratory notebook? We used to give compounds out
for analysis in our chemical laboratories and if we detected a
student was coming with a perfect result we handed polo mints
out, and if the next result came perfect as well we had obviously
detected that they were fobbing their results from somebody else.
Where do you see it occurring in your university?
Mr Steward: From my experience
it is coursework.
Q443 Dr Iddon: Coursework. Let me
turn to Alasdair nextthere were three questions there,
if you can remember them.
Mr Farquharson: I can vaguely,
yes. Plagiarism is a problemwe have noticed this being
a problem particularly in subjects where there is a lot of reading,
and law lends itself to that of course; it tends to be a problem
because of the sheer volume of material that people have to cover.
Part of the problemand it is mainly amongst the younger
studentsis because of their levels of English language
ability which are pretty poor today, people speak in a different
way. I speak to a lot of the younger students and sometimes I
struggle to understand what it is they are talking about when
they start to use colloquialisms. I am not talking about a Wolverhampton
accent, I am talking about this LA gang-style of speech that a
lot of people use these days. That makes it difficult for these
students, therefore, when they are producing a piece of written
work and submitting it to their tutors, to avoid plagiarism and
what they tend to do of course is just copy and paste copious
amounts of material from the internet and then submit that as
if it is their own work, so it is a problem. It is also a problem
with some postgraduate students with regards to the fact that
a lot of the postgraduate studies, certainly in law, are of an
open book examination format. The coursework tends to involve
students working together if you are doing a professional course
for example, as if you were in an actual office, and in that instance,
where people start to work as a team, then you might have one
member doing all the work and the others just copying up from
that member of the team.
Q444 Dr Iddon: Do you think we can
ever stop plagiarism?
Mr Farquharson: For postgraduate
students you could probably put an end to it by having more closed
book examinations, that would go a long way towards it, and not
having so much emphasis on teaching people how to work together.
Certainly as a postgraduate student you should know by then how
to work together and if you have worked outside of university
in a company or in any sort of environment you ought to know how
to co-operate with other people, it should not be something that
should be taught at that level at university, it should be something
that people pick up at secondary modern school or grammar school.
Q445 Chairman: Ricky, you have been
dying to come in.
Mr Chotai: In Salford we have
seen an increasing trend in plagiarism, it is sad to say, with
international students and where the students union has picked
that up from is that the university is using agencies to recruit
students from abroad and they are just not explaining about plagiarism.
We have had some really shocking cases of a lot of students in
a single class plagiarising and being simply unaware of it. It
is in the coursework area and we are seeing an increase in general
in international students, less so from the home students nowadays.
Q446 Dr Harris: From the people we
have spoken to previously, students in particular, there has been
a mixed picture of how much awareness there is. Your comments
just now, Ed, were at the extreme end of how much students are
told, you said you are getting it drummed into you on the very
first day and in every course, whereas others have said they are
personally aware of it of course and they never plagiarise but
it is not something that is very high level. I just wanted to
ask each of the others briefly which end of the spectrum your
own experience is on. Can we work along from Anand?
Mr Raja: At the risk of sounding
a bit avant garde I would say that I do not take the way plagiarism
is dealt with very seriously because the reason why plagiarism
is nauseating is because it indicates that a particular person
is unable to think originally, he is not able to make sense of
Q447 Dr Harris: I understand why
it is bad but I asked you a specific question. You are answering
another question which is you do not think it is taken seriously
enough, is that what you were going to say?
Mr Raja: I just wanted to point
out that the way people deal with plagiarism now is that they
have computer software and they detect if somebody has copied
or not, but once that detection has happened what people do is
that they start plagiarising with talent so they change the sentence
Q448 Dr Harris: They get round that,
Mr Raja: They get around it, so
I do not think it really solves the originality problem.
Q449 Dr Harris: You say enforcement
is not effective. Can you just deal with my question: you personally
have an interest in this but when you first arrived was your experience
the same as Ed's, that you got it drummed into you on the first
day, was this something you picked up or was it something that
was hardly mentioned to students, what was your personal experience?
Mr Raja: It was mentioned. In
our few introductory lectures we were told how to not plagiarise
which means how to plagiarise but plagiarise with talent.
Q450 Dr Harris: Right. Gemma.
Ms Jerome: Absolutely, I think
it is impossible to not be aware. Personally it is something that
you are made aware of as a first year undergraduatethat
is the only experience I have gotand you have to put a
signature to forms and every time you submit a hard copy document
part of that submission is that you sign to declare there is no
plagiarism. The software exists as well.
Mr Farquharson: At the University
of Wolverhampton they take it very seriously. There is an induction
when you first enter the university and in every year this subject
is brought up by the academic staff and it is made very clear
to all students that plagiarism will not be tolerated, plus of
course there is plenty of information from the students union,
so there is no excuse really.
Q451 Dr Harris: I know there is no
excuse; I asked a simple question and I need to move on. Carrie,
can you just briefly answer the question I asked?
Ms Donaghy: I do a law degree
and Alasdair said earlier that there would be quite high plagiarism
within law degrees. I totally disagree; I would never plagiarise
and I do not know how you could get away with it. At my university
there would just be no way.
Q452 Dr Harris: Because of the software.
Ms Donaghy: Because of the software,
because of the experience of the staff, they would know a plagiarised
piece of work.
Mr Chotai: Resources are made
available to make sure you do not plagiarise. I do not think enough
emphasis is put on the structure, do we use the Harvard system,
and then some academics are also somewhat laxas long as
you are putting references down and as long as it is not the strict
systemother academics are very strict as in you must use
a specific system.
Q453 Dr Harris: I understand that.
Mr Chotai: In Salford that varies
Q454 Dr Harris: Did any of you have
any of this at what the Americans call high school and Alasdair
quaintly calls secondary moderns and grammars but others might
call comprehensives? At secondary school did any of you have any
of this drummed into you?
Mr Farquharson: Yes.
Mr Chotai: I attended a grammar
school and no, not very much.
Q455 Dr Harris: Carrie?
Ms Donaghy: No.
Mr Farquharson: We were told not
to cheat. Obviously you are not doing the same sort of level of
work that you do at university but
Q456 Dr Harris: I understand that,
everyone is told not to copy and cheat.
Ms Jerome: I was not even aware
of the concept of plagiarism until university.
Q457 Dr Harris: Was it a shock to
any of you to get this message, to quote Ed, drummed into you
from the very first day and then at every course when it had not
been mentioned when you were sitting public exams at high school,
at secondary school?
Mr Chotai: It is very daunting;
there is the prospect of being thrown out of university because
you have plagiarised, especially if you just make an error in
the way you write down your references. It scares a lot of students
and there needs to be more given before the university system
about how important it is not to plagiarise.
Q458 Dr Harris: Do any of you agree
with Anandthis is my last question on thisthat it
is possible to get round some of the policing, or feel you can
get away with it, by paraphrasing stuff that you are cutting and
pasting, if I can put it in those terms? Do any of you disagree
Mr Farquharson: Can I just correct
one comment that Carrie said? I did not say earlier that students
studying law were more likely to be involved in plagiarism than
any other students, but obviously because of the volume of work
that is involved we have found, certainly at Wolverhampton, that
across the university overall law students tend to be involved
in this to a higher degree than some of the other schools because
of the sheer volume of bookwork that they have to do. If your
English is not up to scratch then in a last minute panic the temptation
to plagiarise is pretty high.
Dr Harris: It is not a shock in this
place that lawyers break the law.
Q459 Chairman: In the nine minutes
that we have got left can I return to this issue of quality of
teaching because it is absolutely central to the whole issue of
the student experience. We were in Washington last week and we
were looking at the way in which the university system is very
much categorised into research intensive universities through
to teaching-only universities. I wonder if I could start with
you, Ed, because you have been right through the whole process.
We posed the question to you some time ago as to whether it was
essential for a good teaching experience for your teachers, your
academics, to be involved in research. Do you feel that that still
is the case or does it not really matter provided that the teaching
is of a high quality?
Mr Steward: Coming from UCL which
is heavily research-intensive I would say, yes, and that is based
on my experiences where my friends who did science subjects, a
lot of the teaching actively engaged them in the research so their
final year dissertations were on the research that their lecturer
or teacher was doing, so they were actually engaged in discovering
new approaches to science and new ideasnew sciences within
that. My background is an arts background and, yes, because my
lecturers and teachers were the lecturers and researchers who
were at the top of their field the information we were given,
the things that we were taught were at the cutting edge, they
were the brand new, this has just been discovered a week ago,
looking at sources in books that had not been published, that
sort of thing.