Byline: GRAHAM GRANT
THREE students a day are being disciplined at Scotland's universities and colleges for passing off someone else's work as their own.
At one leading university, plagiarism has risen by more than a third over the past year - while two others have set up 'hit squads' to deal with the problem.
A Daily Mail investigation, backed by academic sources, suggests an annual total of about 1,180 cases in Scotland's 59 academic institutions.
Much of the copying has been blamed on the availability of cheap, readymade essays on the Internet.
An education source said: 'From the figures we have, the average is around 20 cases per university or college per year. Mapped across our 59 universities and colleges, it's an average of about three a day.' The problem has been fuelled by the trade in essays on Internet auction site eBay, which sells dozens of undergraduate and postgraduate dissertations for as little as [pounds sterling]10 each.
A search of the UK eBay website using key word 'dissertation' found 20 essays for sale. They included one, described as 'a must for any undergraduate', that helped earn a first-class degree from Plymouth University.
Plagiarism has risen by more than a third at Aberdeen University, from 21 cases in 2002-03 to 29 in 2003-04.
So serious is the problem considered to be that postgraduate students must now email all essays to tutors so they can analyse them using new software.
That policy is likely to be extended to undergraduates.
Several other Scottish universities are also using the program, which scans essays and highlights passages copied from websites.
Professor Chris Gane of Aberdeen University, who was recently involved in redrafting its plagiarism policy, said: 'It used to be that a tutor had to prove 'intent to deceive' on the part of a student suspected of cheating, but the rules have changed and we don't have to prove that now. …