I read this week about students who buy essays online facing expulsion after ministers demanded that universities impose tough penalties on those caught cheating. A crackdown is being launched on “essay mill” websites. A recent survey by The Times showed that almost 50,000 students at British universities had been caught cheating in the previous three years. Ministers cited the fact that hundreds of websites currently offer to write university assignments for fees ranging from £10 for coursework answers to £6,750 for a PhD dissertation. However, the problem of plagiarism is one that needs to be addressed by schools as much as by higher education.
There are different definitions of plagiarism, but they all have in common the idea of taking someone else’s intellectual effort and presenting it as one’s own. The Joint Council for Qualifications (which oversees all exam regulations in England and Wales) defines it as: “The failure to acknowledge sources properly and/or the submission of another person’s work as if it were the candidate’s own.” In the main plagiarism refers to copying from published texts whether in print or on the internet, but it can also refer to copying from manufactured artefacts, or essays or pieces of work previously submitted for examinations.
Plagiarism does not just jeopardise a student’s reputation or exam results; it also, in my view, has a negative impact on many of the skills a writer needs to develop. These are skills every student needs for higher education and the jobs market. At BHHS writing is taught as a process. A good essay does not appear perfectly formed from the pen or printer after one quick draft: it is crafted, refined, revised, edited and then revised and edited again, always using appropriate references and acknowledgments. However, as The Times article shows, temptations for students to plagiarise – particularly via the internet – are powerful. We need to work together as parents and teachers to remind students not only that plagiarism dishonest and contrary to school and exam board policy, it also prevents the development of the skills necessary for later success.