Plagiarism cases low compared to recent survey

By Chloe O’Sullivan

Only 17 cases of plagiarism were uncovered in DCU last year, despite the findings of a College View survey showing that two in three DCU students have committed plagiarism in some form.

Deputy President of DCU, Prof Anne Scott, said that plagiarism is a particularly harmful practice at universities, especially if it is not uncovered.

“Unidentified plagiarism may lead to initial success in an assignment for example, but the
academic skills involved in actually doing the work oneself have not been gained. This lack usually becomes patently clear at a later point and may totally undermine one’s reputation with colleagues and future employers,” said Scott.

According to DCU Plagiarism Policy, plagiarism is defined as: “the deliberate act of taking and using another person’s work as your own. It includes absent references, reproducing the work (even with small changes) of another, taken from books, journals, articles, TV programmes, the Internet, lecture notes and so on.”

The definition of plagiarism also includes self-plagiarism (handing in your own work for more than one assessment) and collusion, which is meeting in a group to research when the assignment in supposed to be done individually.

The Disciplinary Committee in DCU is the body that deals with allegations of plagiarism against students. The committee consists of the Secretary, Director of Student Services, one representative from each faculty and two representatives nominated by the Executive of the Students’ Union.

If a case is referred to the committee, only four members are required to deliberate in the case. A student accused of plagiarism is also entitled to bring a representative of their own.

Chair of the Disciplinary Committee, Martin Conry, told the College View that he does not think plagiarism is a major problem in DCU.

“Seventeen out of 10,000 students – that’s not bad,” he said. “No students have been expelled in the last year because of plagiarism.”

According to last year’s survey, 30 per cent of students felt it was necessary to plagiarise at some point in university. Thirty-eight per cent admitted to making up statistics, quotations and fieldwork, while 41 per cent said they have referenced a text without having looked at, or consulted it.

“Identifying and evidencing plagiarism takes up a considerable amount of valuable
time and energy of academic staff, often at periods when there is very considerable
time pressure… This clearly uses up an important university resource that could be better used in further teaching, supporting and interacting with students” said Deputy President Scott.

“It is seriously self-defeating of the goals of the student who plagiarises – most students come to university for personal and professional development, to learn skills that will equip them for work and later life,” she added.

Prof Scott said that she believes plagiarism is damaging to the student, their degree programme and the university itself.

“Plagiarism is a practice that is dangerous not only to the reputation of the student who practices it, and the student body of the particular university, it is also potentially damaging to the reputation of that university and its graduates in the work place, whether national or international,” she said.

During his time on the Disciplinary Committee, Martin Conry says there have been very few cases of people simply copying large chunks of other people’s work outright and claiming it as their own.

Conry said that some cases brought before the committee are just down to “sloppiness”.

“It looks like plagiarism because they haven’t referenced or cited properly. [Some students’] time management skills are poor. We have very few cases of someone just deciding to steal other peoples’ work,” said Conry.

Conry believes that for many of the students before the committee it is a case of leaving things to the night, or week before, then feeling the pressure and then letting things go too far.

Conry said that the committee can be more understanding in cases involving first years, but emphasises that cases involving final year students are much more serious, while with PHD students there are “no excuses”.

“All students who have completed a semester at DCU should have encountered the
notions of referencing and appropriate citation – even if they had not done so in their previous educational experience. These are fundamental skills that are required to produce assignments, essays, reports etc from semester one in first year,” adds Prof Scott.

The 2010 survey revealed that 76 per cent of students felt the university was proactive enough at ensuring plagiarists are caught.

Punishments for plagiarism can include getting a zero mark for an assignment or module, losing a year of a degree, having to repeat the whole year or expulsion.

“It depends on the severity. We try to be humane – everyone is entitled to a mistake in life. We do not take plagiarism lightly but we’re not out to destroy peoples’ lives,” Conry said.

“A significant number of aids are available in terms of learning how to reference properly, from the library guidance booklet to lecturer / tutorial support at modular level. The module coordinators, Student Support and Development or the Students’ Union are happy to point people in the appropriate direction,” said the Deputy President.

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