Plagiarism software sales to schools rocket

The number of schools using plagiarism-detecting computer software to catch A-level students cheating in their coursework has shot up, the Guardian reports.

But despite the increasing policing and paranoia in academia, there are no figures to show that more students are plagiarising work than they ever did. And it's a lot easier these days to copy and paste than it was in the old days, when we had to copy chunks out of books in longhand.

An outfit called nLearning, flogs a database called Turnitin and has persuaded no fewer than 90 schools and some 130 colleges to use the software to cross-check students' work against essays found online.

nLearning is running a Plagiarism conference this week and its spokesman Barry Calvert, reckons kids in year 7 should be warned against plagiarism and be taught how to credit sources properly.

He failed to provide any evidence that plagiarism is on the increase, though. You'd think he would have if he had it.

Fellow academic, Dan Rigby, an economics lecturer at Manchester University, said he'd asked around a bit and found that students might be tempted to pay for essays that gave them good grades. But that's not quite the same thing, is it?

According to Rigby, degree students in years two and three might be prepared to pay £300 for a first-class essay, £217 for one worth a 2:1 and £164 for a 2:2.

He asked a sample of 90 students and proclaimed: "Although the sample of students is small, the results are indicative, statistically robust and rather disturbing."

He didn't ask how many had paid £300 for an essay. And why if you would pay £217 for a second-class essay wouldn't you go the whole hog and cough up £300 for a first classer?

He also reckoned 45 per cent of students were convinced that fellow students had cheated during the past year. Which is about as scientific as asking a Brazilian if footballers from the Ivory Coast are cheats.

"We need to get students to understand that the Internet is not just some kind of information smorgasbord you can turn to – it's actually somebody's work that needs to be credited and sourced in the same way as you would other sources," Calvert may have told the Guardian.

"On the one hand, the Internet has opened up a greater opportunity for everybody to learn, but on the other it's created that opportunity for people to just cut and paste," the Guardian said he said.

The Telegraph has a similar report but features different quotes. Whether either actually talked to Calvert is unclear, but we're having trouble finding a statement online.

We could probably ring up Calvert ourselves, if we could be bothered.