Universities in Sheffield have stepped up efforts to combat plagiarism as the number of students using the internet to cheat grows. Both Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam universities say they are working harder to combat the use of websites and online materials to copy work after what has been described as a ‘national epidemic’.
While both have experienced a drop in cheating incidents in the past three years, cases of web plagiarism have increased. Websites offering ready-made essays and similar services in exchange for a fee have been blamed for the reported rise across the UK.
Sheffield Hallam – named by a national newspaper as one of the worst-performing universities in the country for student cheating last year – dealt with 345 cases of web plagiarism during 2010/11, compared with 302 in 2008/09. The number of Hallam students plagiarising from books has dropped by about 64 per cent, from 140 to 50, since 2008.
Sheffield University dealt with 18 cases of academic misconduct in the same period, including 11 of plagiarism, but said this does not include less serious incidents dealt with by individual departments. A Sheffield Hallam spokeswoman said: “As we are a large institution with more than 35,000 students, the figure of 801 represents only 2.3 per cent of our student body.
“We educate all students about plagiarism and have sophisticated systems in place to help us to detect it. This means we identify less serious cases, such as poor referencing, which make up the vast majority of these incidents.
“We rarely find serious cases of deliberate cheating through plagiarism, though we check for these carefully and if they are detected we treat the matter seriously.” A Sheffield University spokeswoman said: “The university aims to help students avoid the use of unfair means by providing study sessions promoting good academic practice and highlight the disadvantages of using unfair means.
“Plagiarism software detection is used to detect the use of unfair means. Following an investigation, action may be taken by academic departments in less serious cases, while more serious cases are referred to the university’s discipline committee. “The university has not noticed any significant increase in reported cases of the use of unfair means.”