I’m currently dealing with a plagiarism case where a student has copied all of two pieces of work – and, rather cunningly, I thought, used books not easily available physically or as e-books, but ones which feature whole pages on Google book search and Amazon “Look inside”. The student can’t actually cut and paste, but has retyped the passages word for word. A couple of sections are cut and pasted from online articles. Not a word of the student’s assignments is original. Like every other institution, we have a policy on coursework that requires the student to sign a declaration that work submitted has not been plagiarised. So I’m not surprised by this item in today’s Nick Cohen column in the Observer:

How to succeed the cut and paste way
Each year, ever more illiterate and innumerate undergraduates go to university and demand to be spoon-fed answers, revealed the Times Higher Education Supplement last week.

The 250 admissions tutors, who confessed to their despair at standards in secondary schools, weren’t completely without hope. They thought their remedial courses might knock them into shape. I’m not so sure. According to the Plagiarism Advisory Service – and, yes, such an outlandishly named body exists – one quarter of students admit to cutting and pasting from the net. Universities have computer programmes to detect lifted work, but have to confront students who can’t see what’s wrong with plagiarism. Many got through school exams on the strength of course work parents and teachers ‘helped’ them complete. The concept of cheating is a novel one for them.

On top of that are the pressures on the university authorities to cheat themselves. Overseas students are a lucrative source of revenue and the manner in which universities guaranteed cash flow by giving dim foreigners degrees has been an open scandal for years. Lecturers are now facing similar pressure to reward British students unjustly because of New Labour’s demand for ‘inclusive’ higher education.

I asked Susan Bassnett, pro-vice-chancellor of Warwick University, if it was possible to go from nursery to university in this country without learning anything. She replied: ‘You can certainly get a 2:1 without demonstrating the capacity for independent thought and without acquiring basic skills.’ Foreign students are now abandoning Britain for countries with serious universities with worthwhile degrees. Perhaps, Bassnett added, the loss of their money will force our authorities to face the disaster they’ve created.

What’s really depressing is that a pro-VC of one of our most prestigious universities can admit that a 2:1 can be had without, essentially, doing anything like higher level study. I can confirm, though, that the concept of cheating does seem to be a novel one for many students. I’ve had to patiently explain in words of one syllable to several students this year that no, it is not OK to simply copy something and hand it in as your own work…

CC BY-SA 4.0 Cut ‘n’ paste by Dr Rob Spence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.