Small drastic increase

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Cheating on the rise at Massey shouted the Manawatu Standard on 18 June 2014, in a story written by Lucy Townend and featured on

‘Support cheating students’ shouted the Manawatu Standard on 20 June 2014, in a story written by Lucy Townend and featured on  This story is much the same as her earlier piece, with the addition of an interview with the President of the Massey University Students’ Association.

Cheating students ‘need more support’ shouted The Dominion Post on 21 June 2014, in an unsigned story based on and possibly written by Lucy Townend, featured on  [If this is not Townend’s story, there may be problems here. It is basically an edited and shorter version of her second story, mostly using the exact-same words of that story.]

The story itself: despite those headlines, it is not all bad news. The number of cheating cases may be on the rise, for instance – but not necessarily the number of cheats. In 2012, 56 students were responsible for 56 offences: one offence per student. In 2013, 51 students were responsible for 72 offences; some students offended more than once.

Two more things in these stories are worth commenting on.

The first is found in the breakdown of the offences in 2013, and the two years previous (central recording of offences commenced in 2011, so figures are not available for earlier years):

Cheating at Massey

Copying another student's work20125
Plagiarism from websites and books2020
Cheating in exams14235
Referencing below par9
Recycling previous assignments51
Purchasing assignment4
Counterfeiting copyright work7
Total offences725617

Source: Cheating on the rise at Massey

The second and third articles report what may be the greatest reason for the “drastic jump” and the “sharp increase” in the number of incidents:

The biggest boost was in the number of students who had poor paraphrasing or unclear referencing and were deemed to be cheating. Nine incidents were recorded last year, which was up from the zero cases raised in 2011 and 2012.

We do not have the papers submitted in these nine incidents, so we cannot judge what the difference is in submissions between those who “plagiarised from websites and books” and those whose “referencing below par.”

But “Referencing below par”? Does this mean a failure to cite and reference per whatever the style guide prescribes as correct referencing? Assuming these nine students attributed their references to the right sources, in the text and in the list of references, any incorrectness as regards punctuation, dates, order of elements in the reference or other ways in which the reference is styled may be academically incorrect – but surely does not qualify as cheating on the same scale as “cheating in exams” or “purchasing assignment”? If the reader can distinguish between what is the student’s and what is another’s, and better still know where to track down the cited source, this is not cheating. Incorrect referencing is NOT academic dishonesty. Surely?

The second thing which stands out in these stories is the number of “cheats,” on the rise or not. That there were 72 incidents of cheating performed by 51 students is, in the world context, surely a matter of celebration rather than of castigastion and shock-horror headlines. Just 72 incidents? Massey University has some 37,000 students enrolled.  A cheating rate of about 0.02%? Incredible! Yes, 72 incidents too many, but given modern trends…

It could be that not all suspicions are reported and followed up – or it could be that Massey University has something special going for it. Given world trends, it could be that New Zealand has something special going for it: The New Zealand Herald reports that last year there were fewer than 550 cases of cheating in all New Zealand universities.

Perhaps the rest of the world needs to look at practice in New Zealand; it could be we have much to learn.

And meanwhile, all credit to Massey University and those who want to provide more support for the few who seem to need more help. But again, does poor referencing amount to cheating?

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