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Education

Plagiarism at Universities rises

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Expulsion threat: Plagiarism detection increases

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.

BUYING FAILURE

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.

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Education

Project in support of Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign continues to grow

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PUPILS at a London school have again this term been working on maths and English projects that highlight the need to retain an all-weather lifeboat in New Quay and, having impressed a leading educational guru, the project continues to grow.

Since the RNLI’s announcement in June 2017 that it plans to strip Ceredigion of its only all-weather lifeboat, public opposition has been growing. To date, over 31,000 people have signed a petition opposing the RNLI’s downgrade plan, and the Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign has gained the support of a number of prominent politicians and public figures, as well as pupils from an inner-city London school.

Pupils at Harris Academy St John’s Wood have again spent the summer term studying the facts and figures of future lifeboat coverage in Cardigan Bay. The project was initiated last year by maths teacher Alexandra Lay, who was looking for meaningful and engaging ways into the curriculum, and the lifeboat theme has now become a fixture on the school’s curriculum.

Alexandra, who studied at Aberystwyth University, and is a keen kayaker, explained: “When I first saw a map of the huge gap that the RNLI’s decision will leave in Cardigan Bay, I saw an opportunity to teach loci to my year 8s with a real purpose and real-life application.

“As the project developed, my young mathematicians were able to apply their understanding of bearings, loci and speed, as well as distance and time. Through studying all the facts and figures, my pupils began to feel a real sense of empathy for the New Quay community and wanted to do what they could to help save the all-weather lifeboat.”

The project was then taken up by the English department who planned a series of lessons around the history of the RNLI and the role of the all-weather lifeboat at New Quay. Pupils debated the subject in their lessons and wrote persuasive letters to the RNLI Chief Executive.

The project has now caught the attention of Alistair Smith, a prominent presenter, trainer and developer in learning, education and professional football, who works with schools and colleges across the UK and abroad.

Alexandra continued: “Alistair Smith visited the school and observed one of my lifeboat lessons. He was very impressed with what we’d achieved and offered his full support and guidance.

“Alistair’s feedback led to the Head of Teaching and Learning championing the lifeboat campaign as a cross-curricular project across the academy. Next year, the whole year 7 curriculum for the summer term will be based around the theme of saving New Quay’s lifeboat.”

The Harris Federation is a not-for-profit charity that includes 47 primary and secondary academies across London, with 32,000 pupils and 3,700 staff. The school now plans to bring a group of students New Quay for a boat trip as a prize for the best work.

Alexandra continued: “I have thoroughly enjoyed working on the project this year. The pupils are more committed than ever and this is reflected in the quality of their work. The letters and reports that they have produced show that downgrading New Quay lifeboat will unquestionably be detrimental to seafarers and members of New Quay’s local community. It is undeniable that downgrading the all-weather lifeboat at New Quay will put lives at risk.”

In response to the letters written by the students to the RNLI Chief Executive last year, an RNLI representative gave an assurance that: “The Chief Executive and Operations Director have seen the work your students produced, and have asked our Education team to respond in full.” Almost 12 months later, the students are still waiting for a response.

Alexandra concluded: “The lack of response is very disappointing given the seriousness of the issue about which my students, colleagues and I feel so concerned. It makes us wonder whether the RNLI have any evidence at all to back the decision they made.”

To find out more about the campaign to save Ceredigion’s only all-weather lifeboat, visit www.ceredigionlifeboatcampaign.org.uk or search for Ceredigion Lifeboat Campaign on Facebook.

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Education

Ceredigion music teacher presented with Honorary Fellowship

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A PERIPATETIC music teacher who worked for Ceredigion Music Service for 35 years has been presented as an Honorary Fellow of Aberystwyth University.

Originally from Treherbert in the Rhondda Valley, Alan Phillips began his music career playing brass with the local Treherbert Band whilst at school.

After leaving school he became a bricklayer – a skill which took him all over the UK and to Europe. Then, at the age of 23 he embarked on a Music degree at Aberystwyth, graduating in 1981.

After gaining a Post Graduate Certificate in Education from Cardiff, a chance encounter with some of his Aberystwyth friends led him to apply for the vacant brass peripatetic post in Ceredigion, to which he was duly appointed.

Over a 35 year career working for Ceredigion Music Service, Alan started the Aberystwyth Town Youth Band, and took numerous groups of young musicians to competitions at home and abroad.

Alan was presented as Honorary Fellow during the first of the University’s 2019 graduation ceremonies on Tuesday 16 July by Dr Rhodri Llwyd Morgan, Director of Welsh Language and External Engagement.

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Education

Hwyl yr Haf – Your guide for the summer holidays in Ceredigion

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CERED’S 2019 Hwyl yr Haf programme was launched on July 5 at Gŵyl Aber. It is the essential guide for parents looking for Welsh and bilingual activities for their children in Ceredigion over the school summer holidays.

Cered has been creating Hwyl yr Haf programmes since 2017 to coordinate Welsh language activities during the school summer holidays in the Aberystwyth area, and to raise awareness of the wealth of Welsh language activities that are on the doorstep. This year’s programme will see Hwyl yr Haf include partners in south Ceredigion for the first time to ensure that Hwyl yr Haf actvities are accessible to children, young people and families across the county.

There are a number of new and exciting activities in Hwyl yr Haf 2019 including Ceredigion Museum’s planetarium and Gwersyll yr Urdd Llangrannog’s Activity Days. There are also art, music, drama and dance workshops; Gigs Cantre’r Gwaelod’s Sunday Afternoon Series; mountain biking sessions and much more.

Non Davies is Cered’s Manager. She said: “Over ten thousand people saw our Hwyl yr Haf programme in 2018 and many of the activities sold out. With new partners such as Cardigan Castle, Gwersyll yr Urdd Llangrannog and Llandysul Library on board for the first time, this year we hope that even more Ceredigion families can enjoy a wealth of Welsh language activities over the summer holidays.”

To find Hwyl yr Haf activities search for Cered on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or go to www.cered.cymru/hwyl-yr-haf-19.

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