'Support cheating students'

A drastic jump in the number of Massey University students caught plagiarising, cheating off classmates or poorly referencing work could be reduced if there was more support for students, a Palmerston North student union leader says.

Cheating and plagiarism incidents have increased at Massey University in the past three years, according to figures obtained by the Manawatu Standard under the Official Information Act.

Last year there were 72 incidents of cheating recorded on the university's academic misconduct register, which was up from 56 in 2012 and 17 in 2011.

The university says this doesn't reflect a growing number of cheats - students were instead cheating in multiple ways.

Copying from classmates, cheating in exams and buying assignments were all cases caught by Massey and the trend for each was up.

But the biggest boost was in the number of students who had poor paraphrasing or unclear referencing and were deemed to be cheating.

Nine incidents were recorded last year, which was up from the zero cases raised in 2011 and 2012.

Massey University Students' Association president Linsey Higgins said more could be done to fix the high number of plagiarism incidents and problems caused by below-par referencing by educating undergraduates.

"There is a lack of clarity around what plagiarism is, what it looks like, and proactive tools and strategies that can be used to ensure academic integrity," she said.

"There's not enough being done to combat this and more resources could be put into academic support to ensure plagiarism is eliminated, especially given it's so easy to spot with online tools such as TurnItIn [which judges how much content is original]," she said.

"I'm a fourth-year student and I was taught some study skills this year around academic integrity and aiming for increased grades - that would have been incredibly useful in my first year."

Massey offers one-to-one support for students with "learning consultants", as well as electronic, online and printed resources.

It also has a virtual learning environment called Stream where students can ask questions, submit assignments for review of academic tone, structure and focus, and a number of online writing and learning links, called "OWLL".

There were workshops, seminars, study groups and peer mentoring group options to help students develop academic skills.

Massey spokesman James Gardiner has said the university takes academic integrity "extremely seriously" and there were consequences for cheats regardless of what level the breaches were.

But Higgins said many of the resources weren't well advertised for first-year students, who had come straight from secondary school and were expected to produce work of a certain academic standard.

There were a number of other reasons students cheated, including juggling responsibilities, time pressures, facing tough competition, as seen in the vet school, and an unwillingness to fail for fear of losing financial assistance from Studylink, she said.

"The increasing number is a concern and I feel that it is representative of the stresses that students are being put under," she said.

"When students are having to work significant hours to supplement their student loan and allowance, their studies suffer and when faced with the possibility of failure, and academic exclusion as a result, people resort to desperate options, or they make mistakes as they are wrapping assignments around full-time study and work."

Manawatu Standard