Plagiarism is not well understood by many students and it leads to improper referencing or callousness in attributing sections of their research to the source

Plagiarising has never been easier. And that may be why most students submitting assignments and projects do not exactly know what comprises plagiarism. A recent pan-Europe survey has revealed that students do not understand plagiarism.

It has been reported by Times Higher Education that when students were asked about a situation where 40 per cent of a submission is copied word for word without using quotations, citations or references, 91 per cent of respondents accurately identified it as plagiarism. But in a situation where “some changes” have been made to the copied text, almost 40 per cent said they do not think it is plagiarism, or are unsure whether it is.

Though the survey is restricted to Europe, the situation in India is no different, say experts. “We do recognise the fact that plagiarism is not well understood by many Indian students and therefore have a well-documented policy to guide students on the issue,” says Devanath Tirupati, Dean (Academic), Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (IIM-B). Students at IIM-B are given a thorough orientation programme where they are briefed about what constitutes plagiarism and the penalties of committing a crime. “Depending on the nature of the offence, we give students academic or non-academic penalties. They may lose credit for the whole course in some cases or be disqualified from taking up non-academic responsibilities on campus,” explains Prof. Tirupati.

The most common form of plagiarism academics come across in assignments submitted by students is improper referencing or callousness in attributing sections of their research to the source, says Prof. Tirupati. He adds that every year a small fraction of such cases come up and students suffer the consequences.

Chandan Dasgupta, dean, undergraduate programme, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, adds that while students are aware that copying in exams could land them in trouble, plagiarism is yet to be seen as a major crime. “Often students do not attribute content to the source properly. And if they attribute it once in the paper, they do not do it at the second instance when they have again borrowed some information.”

Software to the rescue

Rampant plagiarism has also made detection of instances of plagiarism easier with software that can do the job for teachers. “However, due to a large number of student assignments which are still handwritten, such applications are used when the teacher actually suspects a case of plagiarism,” says Prof. Dasgupta.

Though academics at IISc. are encouraged to utilise plagiarism detection software, they are not rigorously used to check all assignments, he adds.

Even at IISc., undergraduate students are given an orientation where they are explicitly told what they can and cannot do. “In case we do find a student plagiarising, s/he is giving a strict warning in the first instance and if s/he repeats the offence, the student could be expelled from the course itself,” shares Prof. Dasgupta.

Not all institutes give students a manual on plagiarism but make it difficult for students to copy word by word. “Our teachers give us a list of websites and journals we should not refer to for our projects and assignments,” says Ani Alex Kurian, a final year electrical and electronics engineering student at CMR Institute of Technology, Bangalore. He adds that for all projects that he takes up, he makes it a point to acknowledge his sources.

Rahul (name changed), a student of National Law School of India University, explains that if students take an entire idea without giving due credit to the source or if minor cosmetic changes are made to a sentence, it is considered plagiarism.

“Our assignments are also put through a plagiarism detection software wherein if more than five words are found to be similar to an existing article, it is considered to be plagiarism,” he says. If students are caught, they need to repeat the whole course along with the assignments the next year, he adds.