Thursday, February 23, 2006


The Australian's Higher Education supplement claims that 40% of students regard the results of 'faking research' as 'minor cheating' while 11% don't regard it as cheating at all. Academic staff underestimated the extent of cheating by a factor of 3-4. It tuns out about 1 in 4 students cheated. The study, by academics at Griffith University, is based on a survey of 190 academics and 1,174 students in four Queensland universities. The Australian does not mention that the study targeted accounting students with the authors claiming that 'changing attitudes toward what constitutes acceptable behaviour in the business world has been a contributory factor toward a decline in student honesty, particularly with respect to business students'. They further found that 'accounting students exhibit a higher tolerance than non-accounting students for some of the more serious forms of academic misconduct'.

Not that I am picking on accountants - cheating is a general problem in universities and business schools particularly in the form of plagiarism. Anti-plagiarism software is now provided in most universities: this is examined here. I get my own students to submit assignments electronically as well as in hard copy format and raise the prospect of checking which is a deterrance in itself. A suprisingly effective way of detecting plagiarism is just to Goggle phrases in a suspect essay. Of course this will doubtless not have the 'hit' rate of more elaborate software.

Cheating in my view might partly reflect changed community attitudes as the authors of the report suggest. I also think it reflects underfunding of universities with consequent excessive work loads by academic staff and large class sizes. Commercial pressures also impact on students who increasingly struggle to attend class and complete assignments. The AVCC data is old but its implications are clear:

The proportion of full-time students who are in paid employment during semester has increased in the last two decades. In 1984 about five in ten undergraduates were employed during the semester. In 2000, more than seven in every ten students were employed during the semester. Part-time students are even more likely to be in paid employment with almost nine in ten working during semester.

Not only are more students in paid employment during the semester, those who are employed are working longer hours. In 1984 full-time undergraduate university students worked an average of five hours every week during semester. By 2000, full-time students worked an average of 14.4 hours a week, or about two days every week - and nearly three times the hours worked by students in 1984.


Bring Back EP at LP said...

They cut dramatically the number of essays students write doing economics at Macquarie because of concerns of plagiarism.

hc said...

That seems a poor solution. I think writing essays is very important activity in increasing the written communication skills of undergraduates. These are often woeful.

Better to hire people to grade and check for plagiarism.

P.A. Coplay said...

Is there any indication whether the expected penalties for plagiarism (and exam cheating) have changed over time? - the one time I was involved in attempting to prosecute an exam cheating offense - it was a lot of work - also - was it ever the case that exam cheating (or plagiarism) led to very strict penalties (besides a semester suspension - which is one case I know of)? Increasing the penalty is cheaper than increasing the resources spent on detection.

hc said...

p.a. I don't know whether penalties have increased over time - my guess is they have weakened because students are more litigious these days and most university administrators rather spineless.

I don't favour very strong penalties. I think suspension for a term should be about the maximum. Young students make foolish judgements about many things. I did. But I agree plagiarism should be taken seriously and penalised.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the research on cheating
going back to the sixties has been pretty consistent. Between 60-80% of students at university have cheated in some way, so this study actually has a pretty low result at 25%.

But I strongly agree with Harry's comment that just removing essays
is a poor solution. Use TurnitIn,
it's cheap, highly effective and
pretty easy to use. My experience is
that there is a category of essays that don't look suspect, but tools like TurnitIn quickly pick them up.

Bring Back EP at LP said...

I completely agree on essays.

an essay shows whether you have comprehended the essential understnding of the subject.

Of course cutting essays and having more muliple choice tests dies reduce costs quite a bit.

Am I being too cynical?

Anonymous said...

Good topic.

30 years ago some students also worked 14 hours or more per week.

The item on the accountants is interesting. I am not surprised.

It seems to me credentialism and scoring points per se is an important driver in the problems raised. The employment bureaucracy (human resource people) play their part in a process that smacks of self-delusion.