Research by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has revealed that around five percent of applicants have plagiarised material from the Web.
A study of 50,000 personal statements, which form part of UCAS applications, has shown that 2,500 contained material that had been copied from websites designed to help students fill out these forms.
The research was carried out by CFL Software Development, which produces the CopyCatch suite of detection programs, at the request of UCAS.
It followed the 15 October deadline for Oxbridge, medicine, dentistry and veterinary science applications.
The majority of the plagiarism came from just one site, Studential.com, which offers free advice on all aspects of going to university and the application process, including examples of personal statements.
Almost 800 medical applications had personal statements containing phrases directly borrowed from three of Studential.com's example statements.
Some 370 applications contained statements claiming to have "a fascination for how the human body works", while 175 contained statements which involved " an elderly or infirm grandfather".
An astonishing 234 applicants wrote of how their interest in medicine began after an accident with a chemistry set "burning a hole in my pyjamas at age eight".
The research discovered that the number of applications with borrowed material increased as the deadline approached, but that the amount of direct copying from web sources is very small indeed at less than one per cent.
Borrowed material is most likely to appear at the end of the statement or where an applicant describes why they want to study a particular subject.
"We are pleased to see that plagiarism is not rife in university applications and that few applicants are paying to plagiarise," said UCAS chief executive Anthony McClaran.
"We take the integrity of applications very seriously and commissioned this work to investigate the potential for screening applications for borrowed material in the future.
"As part of our ongoing commitment to maintaining integrity standards we will shortly be doubling the size of our Verification Unit which is responsible for identifying fraudulent applications."
In addition to identifying copied material from the internet, the study also examined whether there were similarities in applications from the same school.
The research showed very little evidence of the sort of similarities that might arise, for example through the adoption of a school template for personal statements.
University hopefuls 'borrowing' text from the Web
By Staff Writers on Mar 9, 2007 8:24AM