Most of you have never heard of him; but you will….


Boris Johnson, MP, (b. 1964)

MP for Henley-on-Thames since June 2001
Editor of The Spectator (August 1999 to December 2005)
Vice-Chairman of the Conservative Party (October 2003 - November 2004)
Shadow Minister for the Arts (April 2004 - November 2004)
Shadow Minister for Higher Education from December 2005

Johnson was born on 19 June 1964 in New York, USA, educated at Eton, (King's Scholar) and Balliol College, Oxford (Brackenbury Scholar in Classics).

Boris thinking, again.

Plagiarism in Higher Education
October 19, 2006



Speaking at the Universities UK conference on plagiarism, collusion and cheating in higher education today, Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Boris Johnson, said:

'It was a stock theme of ancient poetry to curse the arche kakon the technological breakthrough that had tempted man to disaster and sin and who can forget the fate of poor Prometheus who gave man the gift of fire in a tube of fennel, for some reason and was punished by Zeus....

He was chained to the Tartarean crag and an eagle came and pecked out his liver again and again an experience not unlike listening to Magic FM and we must be honest we who had no computers in the classroom who grew up thinking a mouse was a thing that squeaked we are tempted to blame Google for the fact that 10 per cent of students are allegedly driven to cheat. If only, we say, they had no internet, then students would be forced to take notes once again from books. If only they had no cut and paste function, they would be forced to absorb, to internalise, to excogitate and by expressing their thoughts in their own words to understand the real meaning of what they were trying to say and I think I might even today have launched some kind of attack on technology when I started reflexively downloading some stuff on plagiarism at universities and I saw how beautiful and how liberating the internet is and I thought how wonderful it is to have a global communion of scholarship with its potential for instant review and correction and applause and how much difference it would have made, for instance, to the academic life of my great-grandfather a palaeographer of Princeton and Oxford with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Latin manuscripts whose feats of memory and citation would have been colossally assisted by the search engine which is not to say that his memory banks were worthless in a computer age; just that the job of placing the relevant scribe in the relevant city which might have taken an hour or even a day can now be done in 0.36 of a second and so the solution to the problem of the cut-and-paste generation is not luddism. It is partly technological It is about using the power of the search engine to root out the stolen paragraphs and of course I think academics should feel free to do this and they should feel free to interrogate students about suspiciously slick-sounding essays, even if they have no computer-based evidence of plagiarism and without fear of litigation and yet if we are to tackle the problem properly we need to remember that some internet cheating is undetectable I have just been looking at site called UKEssays queasy-making in its efficiency for £500 a pop you can order in an essay on any subject you like and in some bedsit a well-paid and unscrupulous graduate. Of course we are talking about a minority but you can see why people are driven to such extremes when the difference between a 2.1 and a 2.2 can be thousands of pounds on their starting salary and I want to make a further point about the mindset of today's plagiarists and in order to do so I wish to make a confession because 25 years ago I did once cheat. I took away from that experience three sensations that it was laborious, that it was pointless, and also that it was somehow personally dispiriting I had done it because I wanted to dazzle and I was left with a sense of shame especially when the librarian dobbed us in It is that sense that seems to be diminishing. Now please do not misunderstand me I am not saying that young people these days don't know the difference between meum and tuum though frankly if you left an unchained bike outside a college in 1956 there was probably more chance of it still being there after half an hour than there is today. But so much of our current educational system seems to involve blurring the boundaries between what a student has achieved himself or herself and what he or she has been helped with, in one way or another and we all know it begins at GCSE and we all help our kids, don't we?

We dial stuff up off the internet. We show them how it's done and our poor teachers faced with league tables and performance related pay can hardly be expected to check its provenance themselves and it may be that we are thereby breaking down that psychological barrier in the student's head between what is their own and what is a rip-off and if the government now senses this, and is starting to move away from coursework then that is no bad thing. Because life isn't coursework, baby. It's one essay crisis after another it is often said that we live in a knowledge economy (as if we used to live in an ignorance economy) and one of the features of that system is that in almost every profession you are required to ingest and expel information with great rapidity like some undersea coelenterate and in that respect real life is like a series of exams and if we are going to crack down on plagiarism then plainly the exam hall is a great place to start because you've got no google, and you've got no blackberry but you have got three hours of quiet to communicate what you think and what you know about your subject and if he is any good the examiner will immediately be able to spot how much you have really thought and read and of course I know that there will be some who complain that exams don't test all the right skills and my first response is to say that I am not sure that is true because it is not given to everyone to be in permanent meditation on their academic discipline some of us need the panic of the looming exam hall and in fact it is only then that the mental flywheel starts whirring and for some of us it is only in the last adrenalin-fuelled rush that the clouds part and we suddenly see the whole landscape of what we have been studying , and how one field leads to the next and you need the exam to produce that genuine moment of intellectual excitement that moment when you suddenly synthesise far more than you do in months of coursework and of course if the exam fails to produce that effect than that is the fault of the exam and the final wretched thing about cheating is that it reflects the mechanistic quality of so much education. The examiner is looking for six points, or even a set of key words. The teacher teaches to the test. It strikes you that the whole thing is formulaic. So why not just crib it? Why not cut and paste? University is the last time in your life when you can be intellectually adventurous without fear of punishment and the sad thing is that we are creating a system in which there is so little advantage in taking a risk or saying something original or even saying something that does not quite correspond to the matrix of the examiners that people feel they are safer lifting or even buying in work that is not their own. That is the real sadness, and it is not a problem that universities can address on their own.'



Please forgive the punctuation; but it was discourse.
Boris Johnson, I believe, has a Belgian wife.