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August 6, 2007 | by  | in News |
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Law students commit academic misconduct more often

“They’re not bad kids, other faculties just not as stringent” – Law School

Recent media reports of plagiarism cases among Asian students at universities nationwide may not have provided accurate coverage of the issue, with Salient research revealing Law students make up a large part of students accused of academic misconduct at Vic.

An article published in The Press earlier this year reported allegations of rife cheating and plagiarism among Chinese international students at Lincoln University.

Following the publication of the article, The Press requested information on the ethnicities of the ‘cheats’ from Lincoln, Otago and Canterbury universities.

All three requests were declined, with Lincoln University explaining that its cheating and plagiarism records did not note the ethnicities of the students. Canterbury provided a similar response, while Otago expressed concerns about the consequences of releasing the information.

Information released to Salient under the Official Information Act reveals 46 cases of academic misconduct were reported at Victoria in the first six months of this year.

Plagiarism occurs most often in courses that are assessed through written work, according to Victoria University Disputes Advisor Jon Everest.

Everest says Victoria does not keep records of students’ ethnicities in cases of academic misconduct. “This could be misleading, as student records list up to three ethnicities for a student,” he explains.

Plagiarism is defined under the University’s Student Statute as “presentation of the work of another person or other persons as if it were one’s own, whether intended or not.”

VUWSA Education Co-ordinator Sandra Crews, who sees at least two cases a week, has found that Law students make up a high number of plagiarism cases. This is likely due to the large amounts of essay writing and the Law School’s “extremely high standards.”

“Law students [aren’t] misbehaving more [than students of other faculties…],” Deputy Head of School Gordon Stewart says. “[But] we’re very robust in applying the statute. We’re strict at checking academic misconduct.”

Stewart says there is approximately, on average, one plagiarism case a week at the Law School, but notes that ethnic disparity is minimal.

“There hasn’t been a disparity at undergraduate level that I’ve noticed,” he says. At postgraduate level however, he adds that, “we have a number of international postgraduate students so there [may be] an unfair weighting towards them.”

“It’s not because of their ethnicity, it’s because there’s more of them at that level.”

In 2006, Victoria University recorded 73 cases of academic misconduct. Lincoln University had 99 “incidents of dishonesty” while 15 and 19 were reported by Canterbury and Otago, respectively.

In a New Zealand Herald article, Waikato University associate professor David Swain encouraged increases in the number of reported plagiarism cases, saying that the trend reflects “better detection” and “a growing propensity for academic staff to deal with suspected plagiarism.”

Swain found that plagiarism peaks in students’ first and third years, which suggests that new students do not take referencing requirements seriously, while third year students cheat deliberately to maximise grades.

Victoria’s approach in addressing plagiarism, says Everest, is to ensure that all students are educated about academic integrity at an early part of every course, and before first assignments.

Furthermore, Crews suggests the introduction of introductory tutorial sessions for all first year students or international students at any level on referencing and plagiarism and academic writing, “considering that many students don’t get this level of training at high school.”

Another detection measure used by Victoria is Turnitin, an online system used by a number of faculties. According to its website (turnitin.com), Turnitin is a plagiarism prevention system that checks submissions against both current and archived internet content, commercial databases of journal articles and periodicals and its own database of previous submissions.

However, Tertiary Update reported last week that a UK lecturer has highlighted flaws in Turnitin after testing his own work for copied material. Simeon Yates, from Sheffield Hallam University, found that the web-based software failed to recognise that work he submitted for analysis was 100 per cent plagiarised from his own previously published output.

One sample essay, provided by Dr Yates, was judged to comprise 18 percent of suspect material when, in fact, the entire essay was lifted from a published paper. Turnitin is used in 80 percent of universities in the United Kingdom.

The University has now agreed to release further information to Salient, at a cost of several hundred dollars. The Ombudsman’s Office is investigating the University’s intended charge. Salient will bring you an update in the near future.

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