Half of Cambridge students have committed plagiarism as defined by the university, according to a Varsity survey.
49 per cent of students admitted that they have plagiarised work, although this differed radically between subjects and colleges. Ironically, students of the Law faculty plagiarised the most out of any subject, with 62 per cent of them breaking the university rules. The second highest was the Archaeology and Anthropology department with 59 per cent.
“It is a depressing set of statistics,” said Robert Foley, a Professor in Biological Anthropology at King’s College.
The college at the bottom of the Tompkins Table, (a ranking which lists the colleges of Cambridge in order of undergraduate performance,) St Edmund’s, had the highest proportion of plagiarising students, with 67% admitting to breaking the university rules.
Selwyn, at the top of the Tompkins table, had the fewest number of plagiarising students.
“It stands to reason that those students who are performing less well will resort to more underhand means to get by,” said a member of the University Council, the principal executive and policy making body of the university.
It is perhaps not surprising that 80 per cent of students said that the university is doing enough to punish plagiarism. “You can see why students, a great number of whom are frequently breaking the rules to their own benefit, would be keen to uphold the impression that the system is working,” said a member of the General Board, the body responsible education policy at the university.
“Sometimes when I am really fed up,” said a Land Economy student at Pembroke, “I Google the essay title, copy and throw everything on to a blank word document and jiggle the order a bit. They usually end up being the best essays.”
100 per cent of Land Economy students admitted to plagiarism, but these results should perhaps be taken lightly as less than five per cent of the student population replied to the Varsity survey.
82% of plagiarists use Wikipedia for their essays, compared to only 75% of non-plagiarists.
Over 1000 students responded to the survey, answering whether they have ever done any of the following, all of which are defined as plagiarism by the university: handing in someone’s else’s essay; copying and pasting from the internet; copying statistics, code or field-work; making up statistics, code or field-work; handing in previously submitted work; using someone else’s ideas without acknowledgement; buying an essay, or having an essay edited by Oxbridge Essays.
CUSU Education Officer Ant Bagshaw said the university was largely to blame for the high rate of plagiarism. “If the university is not going to take teaching people about avoiding plagiarism seriously, which it manifestly isn’t, then it has to expect headline figures like these,” he said.
Many students were surprised when filling out the survey to find out that they were technically plagiarists. They were unaware what the university defined as plagiarism. “Of course I use other people’s ideas without acknowledging them, but I didn’t think that this made me a plagiarist,” said an Oriental Studies student at Girton.
Other students did know the university’s definition of plagiarism, but disagreed with it. “To say that using any idea which is not entirely your own is plagiarism is absurd,” said a historian at Murray Edwards.
Some students, well aware they were plagiarising, simply were not afraid of the consequences. “I have used the same essay three times in two years for three different supervisors… I wasn’t particularly worried about being caught,” said an English student at Homerton.
“In one term I handed in twelve essays, nine of which were other peoples… Even if I did get caught, I’m not convinced anything would happen,” said a Management student at Girton.
Only five per cent of students surveyed say that they have ever been caught plagiarising. There is some doubt over whether the university can do a great deal if students are caught, since the recent attempts by the university to make their definition of plagiarism official have stalled.
“They claim that they can punish you for plagiarism, but how can they punish someone for something they haven’t officially defined?” asked Bagshaw.
The university denied that they were impotent to punish students. A statement by the university said: “the university regards deliberate acts of plagiarism as a serious and potentially disciplinary offence which can lead to failure to obtain, or withdrawal of a degree.” The university is also introducing ‘Turnitin’ plagiarism detection software into many of the faculties.
To justify their plagiarism, many students in the survey commented that it was simply impossible to do as much work as they were expected to do at Cambridge, and so cutting corners was the only solution. “I plagiarise when I am late with an essay or finding it difficult, which is very often for Law as we have a massive amount of work. I ask someone in the year above if you can use their work from the previous year. I’ve done this three or four times,” said a Law student at King’s.
Comments left by Engineering students suggested that plagiarism was common in the department. “Second and third year labs are always the same, so lab reports are always passed down through the years,” said an Engineering student at Emmanuel.
“Part One Engineering lab reports are largely copied off lab partners and older students, but they’re for standard credit so it’s not about doing a good job but just getting it done and getting four out of six,” said an Engineering student at Jesus.
Four per cent of students have written for Oxbridge Essays, which provides essays to university students all over the country. A History of Art student from Downing College, who admitted to writing for them said; “I find it damn satisfying writing essays riddled with errors and having them accepted by public school students.”
Some students expressed anger at the high proportion of plagiarising students found in the survey. “Were I to have my way, the cheating bastards would be strung up by their genitalia,” said one Law student at Jesus.