International students in the United States are more susceptible to plagiarism — using someone else’s academic work as one’s own — and are more likely to be caught than their American counterparts, studies show.
Plagiarism has long permeated American universities among all students. But increases in international student enrollment have raised new concerns on where plagiarism happens and how to combat this form of cheating.
At the University of Minnesota, approximately 85 percent of investigated plagiarism cases originate from students whose native tongues are not English.
Similar research from other universities shows international students are reported for plagiarism at twice the rate of their domestic peers and are more likely to misunderstand the methods of avoiding academic integrity violations.
This discrepancy can be linked to language and cultural barriers.
“In the case of plagiarism, one factor is that it concerns written material. International students are often not native English speakers,” said David Mills, a University of Virginia economics professor. “Their skills and comfort in using the English language may be more limited.”
Students from India and China, who make up half of the international student population in the United States, often come to America without an understanding of plagiarism and how to avoid using another's work.
In the past five years, the percentage of Chinese international students expelled specifically because of academic dishonesty and plagiarism has increased every year, reaching 33.5 percent in 2017, according to the WholeRen Education Research Center.
One factor to consider regarding plagiarism statistics is American students who copy another person’s work may be more adept at avoiding getting caught, compared to their international peers.
Watch: Why students cheat
Culturally, international students may come from a background in which using words or ideas from other sources is not considered punishable, since some cultures may consider individual works as shared or communal. As a result, students don't put as much emphasis on attribution.
International schools also place more of an emphasis on memorization learning rather than original writing and concept creation. This creates a further divide between a student’s expectations and a university’s standards.
Many students struggle at first to adjust to a more vigilant system that is tougher on certain uses of another person’s work.
“I’ve seen people get caught for it, and I’ve thought about, ‘What if they did the same thing back home’ and it’s two completely different consequences because of the notion of what the word means and how much is tolerated,” said Smaran Shantharaju, a University of Virginia student from India.
WATCH: Plagiarism and international students
Educators and researchers alike have also pointed to the stress of university classes as a contributor to rates of plagiarism.
Among international students, the stresses of a new environment, new language, and new education system make educational resources on plagiarism and academic guidelines vital in any university hoping to aid international students.
“You’re facing many different cultural and social differences in terms of how people treat you, which could add on unreasonable pressure. You could be thinking that if everything else isn't working, I want to be good at something, so you spend your time stressing on education and you no longer see what’s right or wrong,” Shantharaju said.
Universities taking action
Universities are stepping up their efforts to address this lack of understanding on U.S. standards of academic integrity. Writing centers, mandatory workshops and other resources have become a focus for universities trying to educate incoming international students.
Schools such as Western Kentucky University and Columbia University graduate school have adopted plagiarism tutorials, requiring incoming students to complete an academic integrity workshop.
In recent years, universities like California State University, Los Angeles have made plagiarism statements mandatory on all course syllabi, so students can gain a clearer understanding of what each professor expects.
These small measures have been created specifically to provide simple explanations and resources to all students.
Jayati Chaudhuri, a Cal State university librarian and researcher who runs plagiarism workshops, says schools must adopt a more comprehensive effort to educate foreign students.
Educators like Chaudhuri have found the biggest motivator for students to learn about plagiarism comes only after they have received a poor grade or been caught for plagiarism and sent to their university’s writing center.
Although progress has been made as universities identify a disconnect between their expectations and international students, a divide remains in how these students are being informed. Chaudhuri says different departments and educators must work jointly to give students ample opportunities to learn.
“There has to be a collaboration of faculty, librarians, and international student education,” said Chaudhuri. “And there has to be more writing intensive courses or training for students.”
“We need to offer it in the beginning of their academic careers, so when they are actually going through a semester, they are well-equipped to fight this problem.”