Oxford recently released a report which showed that a record number of students have been found guilty of ‘academic misconduct’ over the past year. 53 of these were cases of plagiarism. The figure reflects an increase of 47% from 2016-17, and an almost sevenfold increase since 2008-09. In the wake of these findings, many have questioned whether the results can be put down to the intense academic pressure felt by the students at this institution.
Academic pressure is nothing new at Oxford or at universities generally, so the idea that this explains such a vertiginous increase in plagiarism over the past decade can be pretty easily dismissed. Instead this, like so many modern social ills, is best explained by the Internet.
It is true, the Internet has increased the ability of institutions to detect plagiarism. A simple Google search can reveal copied work and on top of this Oxford has an arsenal of anti-plagiarism software at its disposal, designed to root out more advanced plagiarism techniques.
However, the Internet has also made cheating effortless. Not only do we now have a host of academic materials available to copy at our fingertips,but there also are a whole series of websites which are specifically designed to facilitate cheating. These sites allow students to buy ready-written essays and papers. What’s more, the hiring of professionals is now easier and quicker than ever. Students, especially well-funded students, therefore have a temptation to plagiarise that goes beyond simply copying passages from Wikipedia during an essay crisis.
Indeed, it appears that the many of those caught plagiarising are the most financially well-off – the majority of plarigarisers were found to be international postgraduate students at the Saïd Business School. It has been suggested that such students feel compelled to plagiarise due to their high fees and potentially having to deal with greater linguistic challenges in publishing academic work.
However, this doesn’t explain why the plagiarism is largely confined to Saïd, nor does it acknowledge the link between the disparity in wealth between international students, who make up a greater proportion of plagiarism cases, and domestic students, many of whom face enormous economic challenges in studying at Oxford.
It seems to me, instead, the most likely explanation is that these wealthier Said students are also those who are entering highly competitive industries where success is too often prioritised over integrity. They have both the motivation and the means to cheat, and they deserve no sympathy for doing so.