THE FIRST weeks at University can be hectic.
There is finding friends, finding a decent takeaway, exploring the world in a number of ways that parents don’t like to acknowledge exist.
IGNORANCE NO EXCUSE
There are also, at most universities, a short bedding-in period when students are given an idea of the academic standards they are supposed to attain.
And one message is hammered home early and hammered home often: plagiarism can seriously mess up your academic future. If you are caught, you face a range of punishments which can include having to re-sit a course module up to expulsion from the University.
Even if you help someone cheat – because that is what plagiarism is, cheating – you can be penalised. The student who helps a friend cheat by letting them copy their submitted work is as guilty as the friend they try to ‘help’.
It’s not as if it’s a great mystery to students that the penalties for cheating are serious. That is spelled out by lecturers, and contained in every single course manual and the student code of conduct.
THE PRESSURE TO PERFORM
The pressure on students to perform can be tough. The increase in the numbers of students attending university has debased the value of a degree to the extent that some overseas universities no longer recognise UK universities’ award of one year Master’s degree, let alone regard undergraduate degrees as the hallmark of academic achievement. That applies to universities across the UK.
Most professions will specify that a 2:1 or better is required at undergraduate level for admission to postgraduate study. Graduate traineeships often specify the same requirement as a minimum.
Teaching, for example, is so desperately keen to recruit the best undergraduates and postgraduates that it offers incentives for those with better honours degrees in select subjects. The determination to shed the ‘those who can’t, teach’ label has created a marketplace in which a first class honours degree in a priority subject – physics, maths, chemistry, Welsh – can access £20K of funding for postgraduate qualification as a teacher. A 2:2 degree in any other subject gets you nothing in additional support.
CHEATING NOT NEW
A minority of students have always cheated, but the use of the internet has created an environment in which cheating has become easier. As higher education has become more accessible so has easy access to any number of shortcuts and back-alley ways to bumping up marks.
Looking at some standalone work-related training modules delivered by private companies, there is solid evidence that not only are the lecturers under-qualified to deliver the course material but that they turn a blind-eye to a culture of cut and paste.
The Herald is aware of one course tutor who actively encouraged one person attending such a course to simply resubmit their undergraduate coursework to gain the qualification they were seeking via the provider employing the tutor.
Self-plagiarism is still plagiarism and it is still cheating. More importantly, the training provider – or rather, the course tutor – was, of course, swindling the employer funding the training.
Does it matter?
Of course it does. In a working world in which employers look at qualifications first, how is the employer meant to distinguish between a qualification gained through GENUINE effort, work, and ability and one gained by a cheating recourse to Control-C followed by Control-V?
Those who get away with it are often smug, but they also liars and – ultimately – frauds.
Essay mills, the last resort of the truly idle cheat, claim to be able to deliver a guaranteed grade in any subject on any topic – for a price.
Essay mills represent cheating on a commercial and contractual scale. An essay mill is a business that allows customers to commission an original piece of writing on a particular topic so that they may commit academic fraud. Students commission others to write their coursework for them through an essay mill in the hope they will attain the grade required.
The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education said in 2016: “Providers of these services claim that the essays they produce are ‘100 per cent plagiarism free’, but that is a misleading claim. While the essay may not contain any plagiarised text itself, it becomes an act of plagiarism and academic dishonesty once the student submits it for assessment and represents it as his or her own work.
“If students submit work that is not their own, this compromises the fairness of the assessment process and poses a threat to the reputation of UK higher education. There are potentially serious ramifications for the public if people who falsely claim to be competent as a result of an academic award enter a profession and practise.”
In February this year, the UK Government began a consultation with QAA, universities, and the NUS. At that point, the UK Government suggested it was reluctant to go down the legislative route to try and tackle the problem, but in other countries both the provider AND the student would be guilty of a criminal offence.
Such is the scale of the issue across the UK, and not solely in Wales, that QAA has recommended that the advertising of ‘contract cheating’ services be banned and that criminal penalties be put in place for cheating by the use of essay mills. In New Zealand, essay mills have been fined and had their assets frozen.
PLAGIARISM IN WELSH UNIS
The issue has been thrown into sharp relief by a Freedom of Information Act request made by BBC Radio Wales.
Figures obtained by the broadcaster showed an increase in cases of alleged plagiarism from 1,370 2013/14 to 2,044 in 2015/16.
The BBC Freedom of Information request disclosed the following over the three academic years 2013/14 to 2015/16
- University of South Wales (approximately 30,000 students): 1,144 students accused of cheating, two prohibited from sitting future exams
- Cardiff Metropolitan University: 565 students accused of cheating, 12 prohibited from sitting future exams
- University of Wales Trinity Saint David – UWTSD: 928 students accused of cheating, 47 prohibited from sitting future exams
- Bangor University: 36 students accused of cheating, four prohibited from sitting future exams
- Cardiff University: 713 students accused of cheating, three prohibited from sitting future exams
- Swansea University: 1,157 students accused of cheating, 25 prohibited from sitting future exams
- Wrexham Glyndwr University: 103 students accused of cheating, three prohibited from sitting future exams
- Aberystwyth University: 551 students accused of cheating, 0 prohibited from sitting future exams
- The increased detection of plagiarism suggests that universities are becoming more adept at identifying incidents of academic fraud.
Many Universities use software to detect plagiarism, for example Turn-it-in. The software uses a document comparison algorithm that checks papers against a massive database of stored academic papers to identify cheats.
We asked UWTSD to comment on the figures.
Virtual graduation for Class of 2020
UWTSD is looking forward to hosting a series of online events to celebrate the academic success of the ‘Class of 2020’.
With formal degree ceremonies due to be held at a later date, UWTSD organised a series of digital celebrations that will take place on Tuesday, July 21, Wednesday, July 22, and Thursday, July 2.
Providing students with an opportinuty to celebrate their academic and personal achievements, the digital events included video messages from the Vice Chancellor, the Provosts, Universty Fellows as well as staff and fellow students.
“The Class of 2020 digital celebrations allowed us to come together – as family, friends and members of the University community – to mark our students’ academic achievements,” says Professor Medwin Hughes DL, UWTSD Vice Chancellor.
“These have been very difficult times for us all and yet students have succeeded, and these digital events help us to celebrate that academic achievement. Indeed, I would like to thank our students for the way in which they’ve responded to this pandemic and the way in which they’ve worked with the University. These celebrations were an opportunity for us to wish our students well for the future and to celebrate their hard work and success.”
Gwilym Dyfri Jones, Provost of the University’s Carmarthen and Lampeter campuses, said: “These virtual celebrations were an opportunity for the University to congratulate its Class of 2020 and to show that it is thinking of each and every one of the graduates at these unprecedented time,.
“It is also an opportunity for us to share our gratitude with the students for their valued contributions to the life of the university and its various campuses during these last few years,” he adds.
“We are proud of our graduates’ achievements and relished celebrating their successes with them in a virtual environment next week.”
Professor Ian Walsh, Provost of UWTSD’s Swansea and Cardiff campuses is immensely proud of the graduates’ achievements.
“During this difficult final term, the students of UWTSD have demonstrated the true meaning of the phrase ‘the best of us’,” says Professor Walsh. “It is fitting that the University takes a moment to celebrate the striking success of the class of 2020.
“Their hard won achievements demonstrate that this generation of UWTSD graduates possess all the necessary resourcefulness, resilience and determination to overcome the most challenging circumstances. In the process they have made their families, friends and lecturers extremely proud.”
James Mills, Group President of the Students’ Union at UWTSD also acknowledges the unprecedented challenges faced by the Class of 2020 and echoes the pride felt by all at UWTSD: “On behalf of everyone here at your Students’ Union we are incredibly proud of the hard work and success of our students over the past few months under incredibly difficult and challenging circumstances and adapted well to online learning.
“We also look forward to welcoming our students back in the next year for their graduation ceremonies on their respective campuses,” he adds.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, UWTSD – like all other Universities – had to respond swiftly to the lockdown restrictions with teaching moving on-line and celebrations such as graduation, being postponed.
However, UWTSD has already announced that its campuses will be open and ready to start teaching at the beginning of the new academic year, subject to government guidelines. The University is planning a blended delivery pattern for its programmes in Wales which means a combination of online delivery and on-campus teaching, when it is appropriate to do so.
The University is working to a detailed plan which anticipates various scenarios around the coronavirus context and government directives, much in keeping with the Welsh Government’s traffic light system.
It aims to ensure the safe return of students and staff to the campuses whilst also enabling as much face-to-face teaching as possible in order to ensure that students can enjoy an academic and social programme.
BAME advisor appointed to education post
PROFESSOR Charlotte Williams OBE has been appointed by the Welsh Government to lead a new working group to advise on and improve the teaching of themes relating to Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and experiences across all parts of the school curriculum.
Professor Williams accepted an invitation from the Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, to chair the new ‘Communities, contributions and cynefin: BAME experiences and the new curriculum’ working group.
In 2007, Professor Williams was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List for services to ethnic minorities and equal opportunities in Wales.
Professor Williams said: “I’m delighted and honoured to be leading the working group in advancing this step-change towards integrating Black and minority ethnic history, identity and culture into the everyday learning of every child in Wales. The goal is that the new curriculum will become a shining example of resourcing and enabling broad engagement in learning and teaching with BAME contributions past and present.
“The challenge is to ensure that Black and minority ethnic peoples have a presence across the new Welsh curriculum so that within all of the Areas of Learning and Experience we can hear the sound of their voices, know of their experience, history and contributions, past and present.
“This requires appropriate resourcing because we want all teachers in Wales to be able to rethink their materials and feel confident in the ways of delivering them to reflect this presence. It’s a very exciting prospect. In this way, our curriculum in Wales will ultimately be reflective of our common experience of a vibrant, inclusive, multicultural society.
“We have a rich history in Wales, built on difference and diversity.
“This isn’t about adding an element of Black and minority ethnic history here and there in the new curriculum, but about reimagining learning and teaching across all the elements of the curriculum so that it reflects a Wales that is, and always has been, ethnically diverse, internationalist in its outlook and progressive in its aspirations.”
The First Minister, Mark Drakeford, said: “Our diversity is one of our strengths as a nation and our many histories have combined to shape Wales today.
“I’m delighted Professor Williams will be leading this important piece of work and I look forward to seeing the group’s recommendations.
“The working group will complete a review of learning resources currently available to support the teaching of themes relating to BAME communities and ‘cynefin’ across all parts of the curriculum. The group will also review associated professional learning opportunities and resources. The group will be closely aligned to the review of Welsh history by Estyn, the education inspectorate.
“The Welsh word ‘cynefin’ loosely translates as ‘habitat’ or ‘place’, but also conveys a sense that all human interactions are strongly influenced and determined by both personal and collective experiences, such as through stories or music.”
The group will present their initial findings in the autumn, and a full report in the spring.
Education Minister Kirsty Williams said: “I’m very pleased Professor Williams has agreed to chair the working group.
“I look forward to receiving the group’s recommendations on learning resources to support the teaching of themes relating to BAME communities.
“Wales is made up of a multitude of stories. We must understand and analyse our own cynefin, and make those connections across our communities, nation and the world. It isn’t just about history as a subject, it’s language, literature, geography, and so much more.”
The group will oversee the development of new learning resources in advance of the phased introduction of the new Curriculum for Wales in 2022.
Summer Reading Challenge underway
THE WELSH GOVERNMENT launched the Summer Reading Challenge on Friday, July 17.
The annual Challenge aims to get children between the ages of 4 and 11 to read 6 books over the summer holidays.
This year’s challenge sees a shift to a new bilingual digital platform, supported by library e-lending services, online events and links to existing digital resources. The challenge includes both English and Welsh-medium books.
The theme of the challenge this year is ‘Silly Squad’ and will celebrate funny books, happiness and laughter. Children taking part in the challenge will join the Silly Squad, an adventurous team of animals who “love to have a laugh and get stuck into all sorts of funny books!”
Last year, more than 37,000 children from across Wales took part in the challenge. Over 3,000 children joined libraries as new members, and 33,000 children took part in library events.
Wales’ Education Minister, Kirsty Williams, said: “As a book lover myself, I know what a great pleasure it is to read over the holidays.
“Each year, thousands of children join libraries because of the Summer Reading Challenge, which is a really good way to develop reading skills, discover new authors and gain a lifelong passion for books.”
The Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Dafydd Elis-Thomas, said: “I’m really pleased the Welsh Government can support libraries with this year’s challenge. The scheme has become an annual event for many children, who look forward to taking part every year.
“I’d like to thank all of the library staff involved in making the Summer Reading Challenge such a success in Wales.”
Nicola Pitman Chair of the Society of Chief Librarians Wales, said: “Libraries in Wales now have their biggest ever range of eBooks, comics and magazines to download, and this year’s Summer Reading Challenge is set to really help young readers and parents maximise opportunities to engage with fun topics and stories.
“Click & Collect services are also coming into place across the country to help access library books safely during this time. With a new-look website offering lots of great resources, ideas and incentives, we love how easy it is to sign up online and get started. We’re looking forward to everyone getting silly and joining the Summer Reading Challenge squad.”
Karen Napier, Chief Executive Officer of The Reading Agency, said: “We’re thrilled to be developing a bilingual Welsh/ English Summer Reading Challenge digital platform, which will be ready for families to enjoy from mid-July.
“The Reading Agency is committed to ensuring the proven power of reading is accessible for all. I’m looking forward to public libraries and families in Wales taking part in the Challenge and having a seriously silly summer!”
Chief Executive of the Books Council of Wales, Helgard Krause, said: “Nurturing and encouraging reading is more important at this time than ever before. Research clearly shows that picking up a book is not only good for our mental health and wellbeing – it also helps to strengthen and reinforce children’s language and educational skills. Good luck and enjoyment to everyone involved in this year’s Summer Reading Challenge.”
Further information can be found on the Summer Reading Challenge website.
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