Academic honesty and plagiarism
Students have a wide range of reasons for resorting to plagiarising the work of others, some of which are personal and some of which are contributed to by the learning and teaching context of the programme. Here are just a few of the reasons often given by students charged with plagiarism:
"I had too much work and too little time."
Managing time has become a real challenge as students increasingly juggle their studies with work, family and other commitments. Plagiarising is a quick and easy solution to that pressing essay deadline!
"I have to get a First!"
Increased pressure to excel, particularly where students and their families have made a huge investment into an individual's studies, can make passing off the work of others as one's own seem like an 'insurance policy' for success.
"What do you do when you don't understand the topic?"
Large class sizes and limited timetabling of smaller group or individual activities can reduce the opportunity for adopting different teaching approaches - and indeed for students to ask questions. International students whose first language is not English are more likely to struggle with complex and more abstract ideas. Lack of understanding of course content is therefore, in this group and in others, a key factor.
"Everyone does it, don't they? It's just part of reading around your subject area."
Students are often told that plagiarising is wrong - but are not clear on 'where to draw the line' between familiarising oneself with the literature and using it to inform an individual, reasoned and properly referenced piece, and the replication of others' material without acknowledging sources.
"The assessment's the same as the one my mates did last year. I didn't see why I couldn't include some of their ideas in my own work. That's all I was doing."
Looking at the assignments of past cohorts as a way of focussing on - for example - the conventions used in extended writing is a useful way of focussing on the skills required in a particular programme. However, if essay titles are the same or only moderately different from year to year, some students will inevitably be tempted to use each other's work inappropriately.