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With recent reports suggesting that findings of plagiarism and cheating at universities are on the rise, it is apparent that universities are becoming more vigilant on addressing potential plagiarism within academic work and stricter with the sanctions they impose. 

We have noticed a significant increase over recent years in allegations of plagiarism or academic misconduct (as it can often be termed) being made against students.  The consequences of plagiarism allegations can be far reaching, with penalties including (but not limited to):

  • A deduction of marks
  • Fail grades for the work or the module
  • A reduction in degree classifications
  • Suspension or even expulsion. 

Allegations of plagiarism can relate to issues such as: poor referencing, improper use of quotations and/or footnotes. However they can also be more serious in alleging a student has deliberately sought to pass off the work of another as their own (i.e. that they have cheated).

Universities are placing increasing reliance on plagiarism detection software to identify potential plagiarism such as TurnItIn or CopyCatch.

However it can often be the case that allegations of plagiarism are unfounded or unfair, or indeed that the sanctions imposed are disproportionate.  We at Match Solicitors often find that universities fail to undertake a proper and fair investigation, giving the student a chance to properly put their case, and fail to consider issues of intent – thus making a severe finding that a student has intentionally plagiarised when that is not the case. We have also seen cases where universities have failed to properly analyse the work in question, including failure to properly analyse the results of the software used to detect plagiarism.

Whilst often allegations of plagiarism relate to undergraduate students we have dealt with many allegations of plagiarism against Postgraduate students, including PhD students – where one finds the potential sanctions are likely to be far more severe due to the academic experience that a Postgraduate student is expected to have.

Being accused of a plagiarism offence can be extremely stressful and a cause for great anxiety, especially as the impact of a sanction can be significant.

It is important that allegations of plagiarism are dealt with properly and the evidence is analysed fully. We would advise any student faced with such an allegation to seek advice promptly, noting that the earlier that advice is sought the more chance there is of achieving a better resolution.  The onus is on the student to know about plagiarism and how to avoid it as well as producing proper academic work – ignorance is no defence in law, and therefore it is always the case that any defence a student makes in response to an allegation of plagiarism will be of the utmost importance.

Tips on avoiding plagiarism:

Read the handbook and any assignment guidelines you are given – these will often contain referencing guides to assist you to properly cite your work.  Any argument to say you did not read the material you were given will be no defence to an allegation of plagiarism.

Ask a tutor for guidance if you are unsure of how to reference or quote authors.

Check your work – consider running your work through plagiarism detection software and keeping a copy of the results.

Be careful.  If accused of plagiarism, often the University will invite you to a meeting without actually telling you what you are accused of and providing you with the evidence.  Please be certain to seek help and ask for evidence against you.

Get help.  If accused of plagiarism do get help.  These are serious allegations that can affect your future – the earlier you get assistance to answer the allegations the better.

Match Solicitors specialises in acting for students who are accused of plagiarism and assisting and guiding them throughout the process as well as negotiating the sometimes complex University’s processes and procedures on such issues.  Should you wish to discuss any such issues please contact us on 0207 353 6881

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