Plagiarism no problem for digital natives

Plus tough times for the UWS Business School

Back soon

This is the last issue until Tuesday January 13. Thanks for reading this year. Here’s hoping for an even newsier 2015.

Byron’s big hit

The University of South Australia boasts a book by its Byron Sharp is number one for sales and market research on Amazon UK. And quite right too – How brands grow is a cracker, setting out Professor Sharp’s core argument, that marketing is a science with universally applicable laws. I am guessing traditional marketing academics do not want it for Christmas.

ANU-solving

Business bother at UWS

Back in July UWS business dean Clive Smallman asked University of Queensland accounting professor Allan Hodgson to have a look at the school (CMM July 21). And now Professor Hodgson’s full and frank report is in.

He finds much to compliment at UWS, from teaching quality to staff commitment but he also notes a plethora of problems. Like a 30 per cent drop in student numbers since 2009, with a further 7 per cent decline in HECs taught load expected over the next two years. Undergraduate retention is also down 5 per cent, to 76 per cent and barely half of business graduates are in full time work soon after completing.

The situation is especially bad at the Campbelltown campus, on the southwest Sydney fringe, where the University of Wollongong (60 kms drive to the east) has aggressively eroded UWS‘s share of the local market. UWS has compensated for the decline by trying to expand international enrolments but without a great deal of growth. This might not be a bad thing; Professor Hodgson reports postgraduate client service staff are frustrated by “having to deal with a substantial proportion of high maintenance international students.”

And while teaching is in trouble research is under-performing. “Research is below requirement for international accreditation, with some patches of research excellence, but it is not widespread. This is evident to all, with research output widely acknowledged as very weak with low journal output and limited success at gaining external research funding. Support for research is basically confined at lowering the face-to-face teaching hours if there is evidence of some research output or effort in that direction.”

Staff are also acutely conscious of the faculty’s failings. Senior academics pointed to staff with research time allocations who are doing not much. Their junior colleagues complain of “fractured” teaching schedules and “dumbing down” of first year courses. Faculty support staff are frustrated “by slow and inflexible university administrative systems that inhibit innovation.”

“Overall, academic staff morale is low. The dean faces academic staff attraction and retention problems accentuated by low support for research activity and a low scholarship culture.” Professor Hodgson concludes.

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Page turner

“Data analytics expert Associate Professor Simon Poon will briefly join the International Labour Organisation in 2015 to help in developing an online shared measurement platform to assist ILO’s C-BED training initiative … ,” the University of Sydney breathlessly announced yesterday. Make you want to read on? Well it might if you know what C-BED is.

Equity under-performing

It was a close–run thing, but the feds came good on their promise to advise universities on equity funding before year’s end. This is better than the situation a couple of weeks back, when equity managers were wondering what they would get and when they would know (CMM December 5). But funding is down slightly next year (2014-$180m, 2015-$175), with worse to come in 2016 ($167m) and 2016 ($165m). The government also intends to adopt a tighter definition of disadvantage based on student addresses, which will not include Centrelink stats, as occur now.

But however you cut it, there is still a way to go to increase low SES enrolments, demonstrated by the Group of Eight, which is taking a break from demanding deregulation over Christmas and has crunched the equity numbers. And they are not as good as they should be. Over the 20 years to 2011 it turns out commencing domestic undergraduates increased by 80 per cent, which included a bunch more kids from disadvantaged backgrounds, but the proportion of them in the overall undergraduate mix did not change significantly, getting to and staying at 16 per cent – 18 per cent.

“While the gap has narrowed between occupation groups, children of professional parents remain twice as likely to attend university as children of labourers, and significantly more likely than young people whose parents are in trades, clerical, sales or service work,” the Eight estimates.

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Available after all

Peta Hopkins and colleagues from Bond University have a new journal article on how libraries can use interactive technology to connect with customers-which the journal publisher wants to charge non-subscribers $39 to read. So much for a brave new borrowing world (CMM yesterday). However Ms Hopkins tells me a version of the paper is on now open to all via Bond’s epubs page.

Piling on the pressure

There is much speculation that Caroline McMillen’s decision to take the University of Newcastle out of the Innovative Research Universities lobby was born of her distaste for its commitment to deregulation. Not so – the VC flatly rejected this when I asked her, (CMM yesterday).

But the National Tertiary Education Union suspects not all vice chancellors are solid in support of Universities Australia, which backs the Pyne package. With a push the support base for deregulation might collapse, the union hopes. So national president Jeannie Rea is urging members to call on VCs to “reconsider” their support for the UA position.

“Without the support of the vice chancellors, the government would have withdrawn its proposals well before now. Is the vice chancellor of your university representing the interests of your university community? If not, it is time they heard from you and every other concerned staff member. Your voice can help to change the debate.”

It isn’t going to stay quiet for long over summer.

Lost in translation

The past is not just a foreign country to digital natives, it is a very weird one. Young people growing up in a world where on-line information and entertainment is ubiquitous without payment struggle with academic ideas of intellectual ownership. Which is why some 30 per cent of the 3000 Charles Sturt University students who responded to a survey undertaken by the university’s Dr Judith Gullifer for her PhD knew somebody who had plagiarised. And if students do grasp the idea that plagiarism is against the rules they do not think it should be severely punished, to the extent of receiving zero for a paper or being forced to repeat a unit.

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The answer, she says, is to focus on explaining plagiarism and why it is unacceptable rather than punishment for those that are caught, which reduces it to a matter of odds not ethics. And for the present the odds are with the plagiariser. Dr Gullifer says the figure for students caught and punished for plagiarism at CSU is just 1 per cent. Overworked academics who do not recognise or choose to ignore plagiarised text have something to do with the low conviction rate but the big issue is the way digital natives do not grow up with the clear distinction between creators and consumers of information.

While comparable national stats do not exist Dr Gullifer says the work of other researchers make it clear that this is a universal problem and one that must be addressed. “It makes a mockery of university study. The big message is that it is our responsibility to acculturate students into academic practise, not just assume they know it.”

Title deflation

The University of Western Australia has abandoned its dual title system – under which you could be a senior lecture or some sort of professor, on the American model, (Campus Morning Mail, December 1). Unless of course existing staff like an exalted rank, in which case they can keep it, but management rather hopes nobody will.

“We would like staff, when considering their personal and professional circumstances, to appreciate the effects of a dual titles system which offers no consistency across the university and is not understood by many academics at other universities. Staff are also asked to consider the ineligibility of colleagues based on a nomenclature rather than the merit of their application for grants and the subsequent impact on our ability to achieve the university’s mission to support the welfare and prosperity of the University and wider community,” HR writes.

Which leaves the obvious question – what did the university think was going to happen when they adopted the idea in the first place.

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Know something the world needs to know? Anonymity guaranteed but lots of questions asked, stephen4@hotkey.net.au