Frequently Asked Questions for Staff


What to do if you think there is evidence of assessment irregularities?

Follow the procedure!  The Supplementary Guidance may help.

If you have an additional question, please email right-cite@ncl.ac.uk.

Why do I report assessment irregularities to the Student Progress Service?

Please report all cases when they arise.  This is for statistics and monitoring – so the University will be able to know how many cases are handled and patterns in each School.  It is also so that the Student Progress Service can advise if this is a second case for the particular student – and that is very important when students transfer or if they move from undergraduate study to postgraduate study.

What if I am sure that this is not the student’s own work but I can’t find the source material?

Bespoke essay writing services pose particular problems of proving plagiarism. If the work is completely out of line with the standard of previous work and/or written in a style that raises credibility issues, a recommended technique is to confront the student with copies of other work and the suspected bespoke essay. Ask the student to explain the manner in which the suspect essay was written, seek preparatory notes and ask for an explanation of the differences. If handled careful, an admission may follow. If not and you are satisfied that the essay could not credibly be the student's, you are entitled to draw an inference from the primary facts- the difference between the essays - that there is plagiarism. The matter can then be tested via the Student Progress Service and/or the Disciplinary Panel.

Practical tips:

  • do not let students choose their own titles from scratch
  • keep copies of other work for comparison purposes
  • use the language of credibility/inherent improbability rather than accusations

Why is the procedure for dealing with assessment irregularities so formal?

If a student is disciplined by the University they have a right of appeal – within the University, to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator and ultimately to the Courts.  To ensure that decisions are not overturned on appeal, University procedures must therefore be rigorous and must be seen as fair and measured.  This is best achieved by clear steps: eg to notify a student of the problem and solicit their views. As such matters are open to review, statements about academic misconduct allegations need to be carefully worded to enable understanding of options and rationale.

Why do I have to interview students?

When you spot a problem with a piece of work it is important that you give the student an opportunity to account for the problem.  How students respond may affect your view about whether plagiarism has occurred, the severity of the problem and possible sanctions.  Giving a student the chance to put his/her case is a principle of natural justice.  Also, unless you engage with students abut problems in their work they may be unaware of the problem and be unable to amend their practice.

You should always provide a student charged with plagiarism a reasonable opportunity to attend a meeting and provide a written statement.  If the student is away from the University s/he should be given an adequate opportunity to consider making arrangements to return.  If the student does not avail him/herself of the reasonable opportunity to attend the meeting, the matter can proceed in his/her absence. 

Why do I have to brief students on plagiarism?

To ensure that all students know what plagiarism is and how to avoid it.  Briefing students provides essential knowledge.  Also, if there are subsequent cases of plagiarism, the briefing can be taken into account.

The briefing is important because students don’t all know what plagiarism is.  Correct citation (and how to avoid plagiarism) isn’t taught in all secondary schools in the UK.  Also, many international students will not have been taught correct citation at school – and in some cases may not have been taught this at an overseas university.  Even where correct citation has been taught it is claimed that there are differences between the standards of different countries.

What do I do if I spot plagiarism in a piece of formative work?

If you dealing with formative work, the Assessment Irregularity procedure does not apply.  However, you should not ignore the problem.  You should advise the student of the problem and issue a brief written caution. (See template letters).

What if I discover an assessment irregularity around exams?

If the assessment irregularity is detected in the examination period, arrangements should be put in place to contact the student as soon as possible after his/her last examination.

When a possible irregularity is discovered, you will generally wish to advise the student at the earliest opportunity.  However, when the discovery occurs around examination times, you should try and schedule the interview for after the student’s last exam.  Whilst there is always a need for judgement, in general there is no need to advise student’s that results are ‘delayed’ rather than subject to an assessment irregularity investigation.  Similarly, in general, it is unreasonable to withhold module results for a cohort because one or two students within that cohort are subject to an investigation.

Why should I show students the work that has been plagiarised?

To comply with the principles of natural justice, all students accused of plagiarism should be given an opportunity to view the marked up assignment - together with sources and the markers report.  It is understood that it may not always be practical to send this information to the student in advance - if this is the case, the information should be made available to the student at the meeting.

If I discover plagiarism in one piece of work that the student has submitted, can I look at other work that the student has submitted at the same time or previously?

You should not do this. It is a standard principle of civil justice that a specific allegation relating to one matter cannot justify an open ended search for other matters. Retrospective examination of work already submitted, marked and returned is not permissible: eg if an irregularity is discovered for a student in a semester 2 assignment, you cannot re-evaluate assignments submitted and marked in semester 1. On the other hand, if the investigation into the matter in hand reveals evidence of wrong-doing beyond that matter, such evidence ought not to be suppressed.