Illiteracy and cheating rife at university

Key points

• Glasgow University lecturers are frustrated by falling standards

• The annual course monitoring report highlights poor literacy levels

• The internet has been blamed for widespread plagiarism

Key quote

"Plagiarism is now a really serious problem across all faculties - it's becoming a real nightmare." - Prof Eric Wilkinson

Story in full

SCOTTISH university students have been accused of missing classes, passing off copied coursework as their own, lacking general knowledge and having poor literacy skills, in a critical report by their lecturers.

The annual course monitoring report (ACMR) by members of Glasgow University's faculty of arts has even led to calls for students to take a "literacy certificate" in order to prove they have a basic grasp of grammar.

According to the report, lecturers are becoming increasingly frustrated by the abilities and the attitude of the students they teach. In particular, plagiarism of coursework and poor attendance at tutorials are described as "endemic" and "demoralising".

The report says: "Departments seem to have reached a critical point in their ability to cope individually with the decreasing literacy of incoming students.

"Conveners across the faculty are reporting that students demonstrate poor writing and even reading skills."

One classical civilisation lecturer said in the report: "The most basic arts skill of all, namely the accurate and grammatical use of English language, is a skill that is inadequately possessed by some students."

Last night, the report's findings were backed by one senior academic who insisted the problems were not confined to the university's arts faculty.

Professor Eric Wilkinson, of Glasgow University's education department, told The Scotsman that increasing use of the internet had made plagiarism by students a major problem.

He admitted that non-attendance at tutorials was on the increase - but blamed the rise on the need for students to have jobs to help them pay their way through university.

And he said an over-emphasis on creative writing rather than grammar lessons in schools was to blame for falling literacy levels among students.

Prof Wilkinson said: "Plagiarism is now a really serious problem across all faculties - it's becoming a real nightmare.

"With the increasing financial pressure on students these days, they need to have part-time jobs and that has led to a decline in attendance at lectures, which is also a cause for concern. It's not that they don't care about their studies, but it's just that they need to work to be able to pay their fees and other costs.

"There hasn't been so much emphasis on grammar in schools, but it's a question of balance. Kids do write more creatively now than they used to, but many of my colleagues are concerned about the lack of grammatical skills."

The author of the report, Dr Alice Jenkins, said its findings proved there was an urgent need for students to be tested on their ability to read and write.

She said: "There is an urgent case for establishing a literacy certificate, and action to further this is now a priority for faculty consideration."

A spokeswoman for the university yesterday insisted that the problems identified in the report were not confined to Glasgow alone.

She said: "Annual course monitoring reports allow us to scrutinise courses and ensure that problems are addressed promptly and standards constantly improved.

"The report is a local response to wider problems which are being identified throughout the higher education sector."

Details of the ACMR report come just five months after Glasgow University was warned that damage was being done to its reputation at home and abroad.

A study by Christow Consultants said: "The perception is that the university has lost ground at all levels - internationally, at a UK level, in Scotland and even in Glasgow."

Students using 'soap opera' English

CONCERNS have been growing for some time that standards of reading and writing have fallen among young people.

Last year, it emerged that students at seven Scottish universities were having to take remedial classes in English because they lacked basic literacy skills.

Exam officials in England have also accused A-level students of using "soap opera" phrases in their English exams.

Among the examples highlighted were: "So anyway, Viola's had it with Olivia and is fuming with her", in a dissertation on Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.

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