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Sweden battles rise in university cheating

Geoff Mortimore · 31 Aug 2011, 13:54

Published: 31 Aug 2011 13:54 GMT+02:00

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The fact that the Swedish government has waded into the debate on the rising problem of cheating at the country's higher education establishments shows just how serious the situation has become and the determination of the authorities to stop it, despite a feeling in some quarters that it will always be a losing battle.

A series of recent investigations reveals a growing problem which is showing few signs of abating, and, with technology getting ever more accessible, it seems more students than ever are prepared to take the risk of getting caught.

“It is is clearly becoming more widespread, which is why the government has tasked us with looking into ways of treating the problems,” Christian Sjöstrand, a lawyer at the National Agency for Higher Education (Högskoleverket), tells The Local.

He says that the growing awareness of the problem has spurred all sides into action.

“At the moment though, it is still up to each individual school or university how they deal with it. We are currently in the process of collating all the information to see how we can be of help and support.”

Recent statistics on cheating make grim reading for the education authorities.

The number of students suspended from Sweden’s colleges and universities went up by nearly 50 percent in 2010 compared to the year before, with a total of 506 students forced to leave Sweden's 26 largest institutions of higher education last year, according to a review of statistics by the TT news agency.

In the wake of the latest findings, education minister Jan Björklund suggested that Swedish college and universities need to tighten up their approach to cheating and review the penalties handed out to those caught.

All sides seem to agree on two things. Technology is a major contributor on both sides of the debate, and the problem is getting worse, especially in the case of plagiarism.

Of the 750 students who were caught last year, 591 were suspended and 159 were given warnings and of that number, plagiarism accounted for 343 of the suspensions.

Pontus Kyrk, who put the report together for the National Agency for Higher Education, says the problem should not however, be blown out of proportion.

”Although the numbers have risen, it is still a very small percentage of the student population. There are certainly many more ways of uncovering this kind of activity and we are busy looking into it,” he explains

With government having taken notice, however, questions are also being asked about whether the current system does enough to deter students from being dishonest.

Kyrk added that he personally feels that the current punishments are not harsh enough and are really no deterrent at all.

Currently each university or college has a disciplinary board with the mandate to warn or in severe cases suspend students caught cheating.

Suspensions can be up to six months long and can mean the students miss out on taking exams. They are also forced to forgo any grants they may have received for the term of the suspension.

Like many others, Sjöstrand sees the internet and technology as both a cause and a cure to the problem.

”Of course the internet is a major problem in that people have such more access to texts. But on the other hand it can be a help to those looking to stop it too, as it gives us the same access and the capability to compare texts and uncover cheating,” he explains.

Keeping up with the latest technology is key to the clampdown at many universities.

Authorities at Stockholm University say they are using a sophisticated software system to check all material handed in for exams, while at other schools, stringent checks are in place to catch wrongdoers.

Such cheating-detection software is increasingly being seen as the authorities’ best weapon.

Another institution taking a tough stance is Södertörn University in Stockholm, which is one of many looking into introducing a mandatory use of web tools to track cheating and plagiarism.

”The students belong to a generation that learned how to retrieve information from the internet and we need to talk more with them about where the line is between borrowing an idea and copying it,” Södertörn head Moira von Wright recently told TT.

Story continues below…

The Aftonbladet newspaper recently published a report highlighting which Swedish universities seemed to be doing the best to keep academic dishonesty in check, with Gothenburg University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) topping the list.

”We try to keep updated and aware of what kind of research and actions others are taking, as we know there are many initiatives in other schools that are worth following,” says SLU lawyer Lennart Jonsson.

“We try to regularly inform our students about the rules regarding cheating and plagiarism so they are continually aware that we are looking at it.”

However, like others, Jonsson concedes that statistics do not always provide all the answers.

“It is hard to explain why we are so high, but we have always performed well in these lists,” he admits.

“There are many reasons, from the students themselves, our measures to stop it and also how each individual teacher and school reports the issues when they arise. Sweden is certainly not the only country experiencing such a situation though.”

Meanwhile the next official report on cheating at Swedish universities is set to be released at the end of September, giving students and educators alike a new chance to reflect on whether the Sweden has managed to bring the problem under control.

Geoff Mortimore (mortimore.geoff@gmail.com)

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Your comments about this article

18:38 August 31, 2011 by StockholmSam
Of course students cheat...they go home and sit in front of the computer or television all night instead of reading their textbooks. They aren't learning a damned thing and if the teachers fail them, the teachers or the school get the blame. This is why teachers in högstadiet and gymnasium look the other way, they are too stressed out to deal with the paperwork, the meetings and the headaches...especially when they will probably lose in the end anyway. So kids learn how to slide by on bullshit answers and insincere smiles. The only thing they really learn is how to game the system and perfect their cheating skills.
21:12 August 31, 2011 by Abe L
I'm pretty sure that some of the curriculums that don't strike with reality also contribute to this. Students spend so much time getting through courses which have zero application with their future jobs which is highly demotivating. They should try to make students enthusiastic for the area they choose to enroll in and not burden them with courses that have nothing to do with that area.
23:10 August 31, 2011 by blursd
Please, I knew someone who plagiarized over 90% of their master's thesis in Sweden, and then had the chutzpah to argue it wasn't. There were about five different writing styles, and completely different tones in the thesis. And, once more, the plagiarized passages (pages of which were copied and pasted into the thesis at a time) were linked together by these illogical, stilted, and almost unintelligible paragraphs. Like someone ISN'T going to notice an abrupt transition from intelligent, flowing, and articulate command of a language in one paragraph to a strung together, grammatically incorrect, and illogical tone in the next ... then on to another page or two of perfectly flowing argument in a completely different writing style and on a subject different enough it would be obvious to anyone it hadn't been written by the person who put it there.

I mean even beyond that she cited one of her footnote references as being in a certain book between pages 80 to 165, and even referred to two of her major sources by the wrong sex for about 15 pages in her thesis (yet in the plagiarized portions the references were correct). She didn't even answer any of the questions she said she was going to in the beginning of her thesis. I read the whole thing (about sixty pages) because I was a non-voting member of her defense panel, and it was honestly one of the worst things I have ever read/witnessed.

During the panel I started asking her rather simple and fundamental questions about what she had written in her thesis, and you think I had been speaking in Greek -- she had NO idea about what she had "written" which should be another fairly obvious indicator the work had been plagiarized. I was literally beside myself when she repeatedly and emphatically denied she had plagiarized basically her entire thesis when undeniable proof was presented before the panel. I honestly kind of even wondered how it got to a panel in the first place ... I'm guessing the coordinating professor didn't read it before he scheduled the defense panel.

In all my years I don't know if I'll ever see anything that bad again ... it was just awful. The thing that really kind of made me kind of angry though was she submitted it and sat at her defense, and then acted (at least tacitly) like we were too stupid to recognize what she had done. I mean it was the academic equivalent of catching someone with cookie crumbs on their mouth, and then that person denying they had eaten the cookie (and even getting angry that you would suggest such a thing).
08:51 September 1, 2011 by dammen
One of the great failings of all education systems these days is the emphasis on passing courses and getting grades,not about acquiring knowledge. Coupled with lack of enthusiasm from the educators in creating a stimulating learning environment, this is a recipe for disaster.

Another crucial factor is that students these days are quite simply not taught how to write. I have worked with writing skills for 15 yrs, even for researchers, and there are so many simple tactics for 'using' others work without actually plagiarising. It does not matter which language you learn to write in, the same principles can be applied to other languages. It is also a simple check to determine if you actually understand the material you are dealing with, which in many cases of plagiarism, there is lack of understanding of the information being used.

But, as with most things, learning to write effectively takes time, and many these days can't be bothered taking that time. Nor do the higher education establishments consider it necessary to invest the time and money into such things, even if the resources are available. One of the problems is down to modern technology. Word processing packages spell and grammar check but they don't check for logical presentation of as has been mentioned earlier a change in writing style nor do they know the difference between misused but correctly spelled words. And of course there is such a wealth of information on the Internet that of course no one can really know whether a piece of work is plagiarised or not - or so many believe.

Plagiarism is not just about cheating, it also shows a lack of ability and initiative on the part of the plagiarizer. At the end of the day, the plagiariser lets themselves down and is wasting the time and money they have invested in their own education.
10:10 September 1, 2011 by riose
"Copy from one, it's plagiarism; copy from many, it's research." - Wilson Mizner (1876-1933)
23:14 September 6, 2011 by old git
so blursd did she get her Masters or not?
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