Every year the University investigates dozens of international students for plagiarising. Instead of punishing the students, I think that we need to address the institutional issue at play here.
I’m asking the University to step up and do more to support international students from outside the EU. 37% of postgraduate taught students are non-EU international, and there is a similar statistic within the postgraduate research community. Non-EU international students make up a huge portion of postgraduates, and the University is not doing enough to support them.
Every year, there are loads of plagiarism cases brought against these international students, and it’s recognised by the SU that in the majority of these instances, plagiarism is a result of ignorance rather than wilful cheating.
I’m not claiming that the University has neglected to tell international students that plagiarising isn’t allowed – they almost certainly have – but the plagiarism guidelines are hard enough to wrap your head around in English, let alone in your second language. For example, how many “home” students entirely understand the guidelines around self-plagiarism? Now imagine trying to understand that in a language you’re still getting to grips with.
The University’s (rather draconian) opinion is that these students have opted to study in England, and, therefore, they should be studying entirely in English. I understand this opinion (to an extent), but would argue that policy documents – documents about plagiarism, collusion, and the submissions process – don’t exactly qualify as “studying”, and need to be translated into students’ home languages to make them as clear as possible. Students should be marked on the quality of their assignment, and not judged on unintentional errors they’ve made in the bureaucratic process.
The Ugly Side of International Study: the “Cash Cow” argument
There’s a rather controversial point to be made here, and I’m saying this with the understanding that it doesn’t apply to everyone. There is a trend in Higher Education of taking on an increasing number of non-EU students every year, and this, many believe, is related to fees.
Universities can charge higher fees to non-EU international students, and a quick way for Universities to make money is to accept a higher number of international students into the institution. Per year, the University charges non-EU international students £14,500-£28,000 (depending on course) for tuition fees alone. The University comes to see non-EU international students as “cash cows” – high-value applicants that can be “herded” through admissions.
So, Universities come under pressure to admit a high number of international students. This would not be a problem if the University were ready to support all of the students they accepted – but they’re not. Instead, these students are pushed through the admissions process, charged their fees, and left to flounder. That’s what these plagiarism statistics prove.
Wait, what about the SSS?
It’s true that the Student Support Service offers some support to international students who are struggling with English, but they clearly aren’t enough. They rely on students finding out about the SSS, and reaching out to them to book appointments, or get in early enough to book classes (registration closes for the semester on the 30 Jan!).
So I’m trying to make sure that support for non-native speakers starts in the academic schools. If the University is prepared to accept these students, they need to build in support for them, not wait for students to come to the SSS.
And this starts with translation
It sounds like a small thing, but having the University’s policy surrounding plagiarism, collusion and the submissions process translated into other languages will go a long way in making a difference to the international student experience. I honestly believe that if the University is willing to make this proactive step, they’ll see a substantial drop in the number of plagiarism cases.
I hope you’ll forgive the lengthy blog post, but I think it is so important for all students to understand the situation that international students are put in. We need to rally around these students and ask the University to support them.