International postgraduate students’ experiences of plagiarism education in the UK:

student, tutor and expert perspectives

Mary Davis


Many studies have confirmed that learning to use sources is difficult, confusing and takes a long time, especially for international students who are likely to have learnt different academic conventions to those expected in Anglophone universities (Braine, 2002). Reports of problems with plagiarism seem to be particularly prevalent among international postgraduates (Pecorari, 2002), perhaps due to the necessity for them to adapt quickly to new rules about using sources (McGowan, 2005), and a lack of pedagogical support (Murray and Kirton, 2006). There is a growing focus on plagiarism education, as a key area of learning, not just what not to do, but also about good practice, gradual development of academic literacy and a discussion of the grey areas of plagiarism (Sutherland-Smith, 2008; Howard, 2008). However, to date, few case studies are available of the experiences of plagiarism education of international postgraduate students. Therefore, this study focuses on a number of international students from Asia and North Africa who took a yearlong Pre-Master’s programme of English for Academic Purposes (EAP), followed by a Master’s degree at a UK university. The student participants were interviewed at the end of these 2 years of study, and their comments were used to analyse their awareness and knowledge of source use, and the strategies they were employing based on their learning. Interviews were also made with the tutors on the students’ postgraduate programmes, and with plagiarism education experts, for further insights into student experiences.

In the interviews, the student participants reported some difficulty understanding the university’s definition of plagiarism, while tutors either had a positive view or noticed different problems with it, compared to the students’ views. Students reported how they attempted to follow their tutors’ instructions with source use, but the requirements set by tutors for the students’ level of source use seem very high. Some students reported that teaching and support related to source use were limited on their Master’s programmes, and that they continued to have many concerns about plagiarism, especially at dissertation time. On the other hand, the views of the postgraduate tutors varied, as some felt it was not their responsibility to teach sources or that they did not have time to do so, while others said that they gave considerable support to students about source use. Tutors noted some reasons why they connected international students with plagiarism. The plagiarism education experts acknowledged the problems of time and resources, but also called for more pedagogical support, greater focus on learning, acknowledgement of the wider context of plagiarism education, and the need to look creatively for ways of dealing with the problem.

The implications of this study are that international students may not achieve the understanding, awareness and skills in source use required at Master’s level. Their experiences of plagiarism education may also not match those expected by their tutors, and the support they receive seems to vary. Thus, the study calls for more attention to the international student experience of plagiarism education throughout the whole learning process.

This paper was submitted to the International Integrity & Plagiarism Conference which ran between 2004-2014. The paper was peer reviewed by an independent editorial board and features in the conference proceedings.