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Academic Misconduct Benchmarking Research Project (Part I): The Range and Spread of Penalties Available for Student Plagiarism among UK Higher Education Institutions

Lookup NU author(s): Peter Tennant


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At the Second International Plagiarism Conference the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, expressed concerns that penalties for student plagiarism are being applied inconsistently throughout the UK. The first phase of the Academic Misconduct Benchmarking Research (AMBeR) Project, commissioned by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) to investigate the policies and procedures applicable for plagiarism throughout the HE sector, sought to identity the range and spread of penalties available within HEI regulations. 168 government-subsidised UK HEIs were contacted to request copies of their plagiarism regulations and a 91% response rate was achieved. Regulations were analysed to determine the range of penalties available, and the factors involved in assigning these penalties. Two numerical values were then calculated for each institution to explain the range of penalties available for a given offence [Penalty Variability Score (PVS)] and the extent to which the available penalties increase with the seriousness of the offence [Penalty Gradation Score (PGS)]. Initial analysis identified that 25 different penalties (ranging from ‘no further action’ to ‘expulsion’) were available for student plagiarism throughout the HE sector. The range of penalties available for different offences was also shown to vary substantially both across the sector and within institutions. In terms of how these penalties are recommended, we identified that while 86.7% of institutions provided some advice within their guidelines, only 76.4% made explicit how certain factors should affect the penalty. By far the most common individual factor was a student’s previous history of misconduct (63.4%), followed by their academic level (29.4%). These factors were considered in more detail. For a majority of institutions (79.1%), the PGS values fell into one of three clusters. Institutions in the first cluster (28.8%) have a single list of penalties that is applicable for all cases of plagiarism. HEIs in the second cluster (30.7%) have either two or three applicable penalty lists while those in the final cluster (19.6%) demonstrate a highly stepped approach to recommending a penalty, with at least four explicitly different penalty lists, which are assigned stepwise according to multiple changes in the factors above. We identified significant differences between the characteristics of HEIs belonging to these three different clusters which represents a potential obstacle to the development of a uniform consensus on plagiarism management. Future research is now underway to investigate whether the inconsistency identified in this study translates directly to the penalties awarded.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Tennant PWG, Rowell G, Duggan F

Publication type: Authored Book

Publication status: Published

Series Title: Plagiarism Advice: Amber Project

Year: 2007

Number of Pages: 24

Publisher: JISC Plagiarism Advisory Service