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    A blog from the Center for International Higher Education


The Slippery Business of Plagiarism

Students, especially those who come from corrupt environments where plagiarism is prevalent, but ignored, or seen as a trivial offense, need better guidance.

May 24, 2016

Plagiarism is a widespread problem around the world. It can take various forms — copying and pasting text without acknowledging its source, “recycling” or self-plagiarism (presenting the same paper several times as original), purchasing papers from an agency or a ghostwriter and submitting them as one’s own. With the benefit of new technologies, cheating is booming, such that some countries are describing a ‘plagiarism epidemic’.[1] In the United Kingdom, for example, almost 50,000 university students were caught cheating from 2012 to 2015. This is only the reported cases — how many more cases remain undetected?

Students, especially those who come from corrupt environments where plagiarism is prevalent but ignored or seen as a trivial offense, need better guidance about the consequences of violating the rules of academic integrity. For example, during the academic year 2014-2015, the Department of Immigration in Australia cancelled 9,250 international student visas — plagiarism was one of the reasons cited in addition to other forms of academic misconduct[2]. Students need to understand that plagiarism during the course of their university studies could have significant repercussions – not only in the short-term, but also for their future careers.

Some famous politicians have been implicated in plagiarism scandals. Following the public scandal revolving around plagiarism identified in their dissertations, German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned in 2011 and German Education Minister Annette Schavan in 2013. Evidence of plagiarism was found in the dissertation of Ursula von der Leyen, the current German Defense Minister. Igor Danchenko and Clifford Gaddy, scholars at the Brookings Institute, found extensive plagiarism in the dissertation of Russian President, Vladimir Putin, “Strategic Planning of the Reproduction of the Mineral Resource Base of a Region under Conditions of the Formation of Market Relations (St. Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast),” which he’d successfully defended at the St. Petersburg Mining Institute in 1997. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden was thwarted by a plagiarism scandal that dated back to his law school years and that ended his 1988 presidential campaign.

Can undetected plagiarism during a person’s studies embolden the inclination to cheat in a future profession? High profile personalities including Timothy Parker, the crossword puzzle editor for USA Today, and Fareed Zakaria, CNN anchor, have been caught in recent plagiarism scandals.

Are more students cheating now than before? Not according to the recent study by Curtis and Vardanega (2016)[3], who actually observed a downward trend among students at Australian universities in 2004-2014. At least since some forms of plagiarism can now be detected. Scholars have raised the alarm, however, indicating that about 70% of students do not consider all types of plagiarism (see Table ) to be wrong. In another study, Curtis et al. (2013)[4] found that only 25% of first-year students at Murdoch University recognize all practices considered to be plagiarism; this number increased to 50% after completing courses on academic integrity. Curtis and Vardanega (2013) argue that text-matching software and educational interventions help to protect standards of academic integrity and are among the most successful mechanisms for positively change. Denisova-Schmidt et al. (2016)[5] discovered that the frequency of use of some forms of cheating might increase significantly during university studies. Comparing first-year students with more advanced students at selected Russian universities, the scholars found that copying off during exams or tests increases by 25%; downloading term papers (or other papers) from the internet by 15%; and purchasing term papers (or other papers) from special agencies or from other students by 12.5%. The scholars also voiced concern about the students’ lack of awareness of what constitutes cheating. Copying and pasting from the Internet without any acknowledgement of source seems to be business as usual for many students at Russian universities.

Many unprepared students are sent to universities all around the world. If secondary school education is failing to address this problem, then higher education institutions must acknowledge this issue by developing a better understanding of why students resort to plagiarism and addressing these motivations specifically. In addition to various anti-plagiarism policies and procedures, incorporating the use of special software programs like Turnitin or Unplag, and developing ratings of universities based on their tolerance of plagiarism,[6] the faculty should present assignments and expectations more clearly to students. All of these remedies might still be insufficient when plagiarism is the only way that some students feel they can succeed or when plagiarism is a plea for help[7].

Table : Types of Plagiarism


material copied verbatim from text and source acknowledged in-line but represented as paraphrased


material paraphrased from text without in-line acknowledgement of source


material copied from another student's assignment with the knowledge of the other student


material copied verbatim from text without in-line acknowledgement of the source


same assignment submitted more than once for different courses


assignment written by third party and represented by student as own work


assignment copied from another student's assignment or other person's paper without that person's knowledge

Source: Walker, J. (1998). Student plagiarism in universities: what are we doing about it? Higher Education Research & Development, 17(1), 89-106, p. 103.



Elena Denisova-Schmidt is a lecturer, University of St. Gallen (Switzerland) and Research Fellow, CIHE, Boston College (USA). 

For more information about corruption in higher education, follow @BC_HECM for news and trends. The Higher Education Corruption Monitor collects news and research on various types of corruption and anti-corruption policies and initiatives from all around the world.



[3] Gurtis, G. and Vardanega, L. 2016. Is plagiarism changing over time? A 10-year time-lag study with three points of measurement. Higher Education Research & Development, 2016. DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2016.1161602

[4] Curtis, G.J., Gouldthorp, B., Thomas, E.F., O’Brien, G.M., & Correia, H.M. (2013). Online academic-integrity mastery training may improve students’ awareness of, and attitudes toward, plagiarism. Psychology: Learning and Teaching, 12(3), 282–289.

 [6] http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/dissernet-ranks-russian-universities-according-to-plagiarism/562638.html


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