An investigation of international postgraduate engineering students' attitudes and abilities related to avoiding plagiarism
Plagiarism committed by international postgraduate students who come from a non-English speaking background (NESB) has been raised repeatedly as a pressing academic concern. In this study, postgraduate engineering students' views about plagiarism and their ability to detect and avoid plagiarism were examined using a survey instrument. The primary question investigated was whether there was any discernible variation in attitudes and abilities between students from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. As such, the survey (n=416) was designed to assess students' ability to recognise and rate the severity of plagiarism in a series of writing samples. The responses were collated by birth country and compared by the major geographic regions represented. All participants were invited to give further insight in a post-survey interview where their ability to correct identified plagiarised work was also tested. The results revealed that there were notable differences between the geographical sub-group students' ethical stance and their abilities to identify plagiarism. Furthermore, the variation in attitudes and abilities was still evident after at least a semester of postgraduate study. The plagiarism detection exercise indicated that although the Oceania sub-group were better at identifying plagiarised material, the other sub-groups (consisting entirely of students from either a NESB or with English as a second language) were nearly as proficient. Skill deficiencies and language issues, representing potentially significant disadvantage with respect to academic writing, were evident however when these students were asked to correct the identified plagiarised material.