'A Degree of Fraud': Plagiarism crackdown subject of BBC documentary

"It's a slippery slope and students can become dependent on these services, especially if they start using them in the first year of their degree."

Dr Thomas Lancaster, Associate Dean of the School of Computing and Digital Technologies

A Staffordshire University campaign to crackdown on essay fraud features in a BBC Radio 4 documentary today.

'A Degree of Fraud' is broadcast at 8pm and includes insight from Dr Thomas Lancaster, Associate Dean of the School of Computing and Digital Technologies, a leading expert on plagiarism and contract cheating.

He explained: “10 years ago contract cheating was a new problem and wasn't very well known by academics. Now, services offering to write essays are so visible - they're all over social media, they appear in google searches and more and more students are using them.”

The use of online 'essay mills' has become increasingly popular and it is reported that tens of thousands of students buy professionally written essays each year. Leading academics and government ministers are now campaigning to outlaw the practice.

Dr Lancaster believes that early intervention is key: “It's a slippery slope and students can become dependent on these services, especially if they start using them in the first year of their degree.

“It is a problem in higher education in the UK and around the world because it means that students aren't getting the right knowledge to obtain a degree. They are going out into the workplace without being equipped with skills that they need for success.”

He added: “One thing I'm very keen to do is raise awareness around the problem and to try and get students on side, to make them aware that this isn't good for them or their future and that help is available to them.”

The Students' Union at Staffordshire University is holding regular events designed to raise awareness of plagiarism and contract cheating and support students facing difficulties.

Jaime-Lee Cunningham, President of the Student’s Union, said: “There's a lot more to plagiarism than copying and pasting off the internet or not referencing correctly but it is not something that is really talked about.

“If students aren't educated about this, then they might not realise they're doing anything wrong, so we want to start the ball rolling and get people talking. Hopefully it will then spread down the cohorts and stop cases getting to disciplinary stage.”

'A Degree of Fraud' is on BBC Radio 4 at 8pm, Tuesday 4 April.

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