Posted by: Mark Foreman | April 20, 2020

Clean university life

The second sign on the fridge read

“This fridge is like a joke, it helps if you keep it clean !”

Also you should think of your university as being like “a joke”, it helps if you keep it clean. Keeping it clean includes not making a mess in the lab, returning your library books on time, not trashing the hall of residence, not having food fights in the dining hall and a series of other horrors. When I was a PhD student I had my evening meals in an undergraduate hall in my final year, one day at the end of term I sat down and some young men near me were acting strangely. I inquired of them if something was about to happen. One of them said yes. I got up went with my tray to the other side of the room. Shortly afterwards they started throwing food at each other and creating a vast mess. Shortly afterwards the person in charge of the kitchen came out and told them to clean up their mess. They laughed at this person and ran off. A short time later a cleaner came out and started to clean the mess. I felt very sorry for the cleaner having to deal with this wanton mess, I later discovered that the hooligan boys were issued with a painful fine which included the salary costs for the cleanup operation. I find the wanton destruction of food to be offensive in a world where we have not yet put an end to malnutrition and hunger.

My grandfather on my father’s side was a POW locked up in Poland by the Germans for most of world war two. Once while larking about he threw the lid of a cheese box at another British man. Just as he threw it a German guard opened the door and the box lid almost hit the guard. My grandfather was taken in front of the British officer who was in charge of day to day discipline amount British POWs. He was sent to the glasshouse (Guardhouse) for three days as a punishment. He meet a pair of men who had wasted food, they had filled another mans boots with treacle as a joke. The British commanding officer was incensed when he heard what these two men had done, he commented “Men have risked their lives to bring us this food so who are you to waste it !”. The treacle hooligans were given at least twice as long as my Grandfather in the glasshouse.

Keeping the university clean also includes being clean in your behavior as students. Please do not do stuff like singing offensive sounds as you walk home through some quiet neighborhood full of families close to the university.

Also also please do not do anything like the “horrid riots” of Aberdeen when the students from one university in 1659 fought in the street with the students from another university.

Being clean does not mean being judgmental about someone who is different to you. In fact being bigoted or discriminating against people is deeply morally unclean. The most important steps I think you can take towards being morally clean are to obey the university rules, treat all other people in a decent way, never cheat and never doing anything to assist another person cheating.

Cheating at university makes me both angry and sad at the same time. Once I had two students who were guilty of plagiarism when I was an academic at the University of Reading. I had an interesting discussion with the head of department (Matthew Almond) about what to do with them. Me and Matthew choose to exercise mercy and not drag them over red hot coals and up in front of a dean or some other similar figure. Other academics might not have so much mercy as me and Matthew.

I know a young lady who had a boy friend who cheated at university by copying essays which he stole by sneaking into someone else’s computer when they were out of the house. He was banned for several months from all university life, this young lady is now working as a school teacher in Sweden. As a result of having a cheating ex-boyfriend she has a very unsympathetic attitude to plagiarism.

The last thing I have to say about cheating at university is do not expect good value for money from sites which claim that they will write bespoke essays or reports for you in exchange for vast sums of money. There was a UK academic (Charles Oppenheim, Loughborough’s professor of information science) who did an interesting experiment. The academic set a question for an essay “Does UK copyright law provide an adequate balance between the needs of rightholders and users?”

He then told the students to buy a 1500 word essay on the subject and also write one of their own. The essays were all blind marked by Charles Oppenheim. He then found out from the students which were essays which were written by the students and which were purchased from the pay to cheat sites.

The results were interesting, he discovered the lowest marked essay (which cost about 2000 SEK) barely scrapped a pass (it only got 42 %) and it was riddled with basic errors and suffered from “appalling” English. Another pair of essays came from companies which claimed that they would get normally above 60 %, but they only scrapped in at about 55 and 57 %. Not good value for money !

I think that the UK students were getting better grades than the essay mills, it is typical in the UK to mark such that the average student gets a 2.1

Here is a rough conversion chart between the UK and Swedish systems

UK Percentage mark UK grade Swedish grade
Below 40 % Fail Fail
40 to 50 % Third Bare pass (G)
50 to 60 % 2.2 (Lower second) VG
60 to 70 % 2.1 (Upper second) Either VG or MVG
Above 70 % First MVG

The majority of students at the end of their UK first degree get either a 2.2, 2.1 or a first. Thankfully few students get thirds or fails right at the end of their BA or BSc.


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