Re-thinking Plagiarism in Light of a Bigger Question: What is the Purpose of a University Education?

University of Otago, New Zealand

University of Otago, New Zealand

University of Otago, New Zealand


Plagiarism is an increasing issue in globalised higher education and has engendered a ‘moral panic’ in many contexts. Much of the plagiarism research to date has focused on questions relating to students’ morality, their development as academic writers, or their (mis)understandings of citation practices and what constitutes plagiarism. Although Blum argues that for many contemporary students, university is “just another hurdle to jump on the way to a bigger goal,” this idea has not been fully explored in relation to students’ plagiarism. In this paper I draw on my in-progress doctoral research data to consider the connections between students’ perspectives on plagiarism and their articulated beliefs about the purpose of a university education. The data comes from interviews with 21 undergraduate students drawn from first year classes across the University. During our interviews, I asked the students about their understandings of plagiarism and their views on what constitutes a university education. I use a discourse analytic approach to examine connections between the students’ responses to my questions concerning their views of both plagiarism and the purpose of a university education. I discuss my finding that the students who drew on employment discourses when discussing the purpose of a university education also drew on confusion discourses when discussing plagiarism. Specifically, these students did not see the relevance of learning academic skills such as citation. I suggest a need for universities to proactively engage students in understanding the relevance of academic skills to their futures in a globalised world.

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