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Plagiarising just got a lot tougher in the UK

TurnItIn's new software to keep up with how cheating has evolved. Source: Shutterstock

TurnItIn, the widely-used plagiarism-detection service in British universities, is set to launch a new software to keep up with the new developments in the world of cheating.

The new software, called Authorship Investigation, will record and monitor a student’s writing style with the aim of catching students who rely on essay mills to do their homework, according to The Telegraph.

“Taking on emerging threats to academic integrity like contract cheating is a natural extension of our mission,” Turnitin’s CEO, Chris Caren said.

“As forms of academic misconduct evolve, so must Turnitin’s offerings.”

“We believe in the value of higher education, and we see our forthcoming solution as playing an essential role in protecting the degrees institutions confer.”

TurnItIn’s current system is only able to detect essays which use published works without permission. The new software will be able to notify institutions when it spots papers written in a style significantly different from the student’s previous works.

Passing off someone else’s work as one’s own is plagiarism. It’s a serious academic misconduct, whether or not you intended to do so does not matter. Those caught plagiarising usually penalties such as having to re-do the assignments and in more serious cases, suspension and expulsion.

Last year, the UK government proposed tougher measures both on the students who plagiarise and the websites (i.e. “essay mills”) that help them.

Using essay mills represent a specific type of plagiarism. The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) describes it as “contract cheating” which means “a form of cheating where a student submits work to a higher education provider for assessment, where they have used one or more of a range of services provided by a third party, and such input is not permitted. The contract with the student can include payment or other favours, but this is not always the case.”

In the UK, these “third party services” are big business. A QAA investigation last year found hundreds of essay mill companies in operation, offering as little as GBP15 (US$19.7) to almost GBP7,000 (US$9,179.70) for a PhD dissertation.

Last October, the UK government issued a guidance on how universities can beat “contract cheating”.

Universities are urged to block essay cheat sites, detect their ads and set up adjudication panels for those alleged of academic misconduct in the document “Contracting to Cheat in Higher Education” published by university standards watchdog Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).

UK Universities Minister then, Jo Johnson welcomed the new advice, saying:

“This form of cheating is unacceptable and pernicious. It not only undermines standards in our world-class universities, but devalues the hard-earned qualifications of those who don’t cheat.”

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