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Do universities keep work done by students for later research and/or plagiarism detection by future students (eg. self-plagiarism)?

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  • The CS department at my undergrad held onto student projects for several years and used plagiarism detection software extensively to check for shared code. Conversely, the ECE department rarely if ever held onto student work. I suspect this is determined by a combination of university-wide policy, department-wide policy, and instructor preferences. I doubt you'll find a single answer that's applicable to all universities.
    – tonysdg
    Dec 16, 2016 at 22:47

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The rules of different institutions vary, so there's no one-size-fits-all answer here. However, plagiarism detection software like Turnitin does store copies of papers indefinitely:

Our database contains 58 billion web pages, 570 million student papers and 150 million articles from academic books and publications.

They also store archived web pages no longer available on the Internet. Other plagiarism software likely works in a similar fashion.

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  • When you say "our" database, are you referring to your school or turnitin?
    – ATomz
    Dec 16, 2016 at 21:51
  • @ATomz: Luigi is referring to Turnitin - it's a quote from the site he's linking to.
    – tonysdg
    Dec 16, 2016 at 22:44
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At the universities I have worked for, course convenors are required to keep copies of all student assignments and exams for a certain period of time (mostly to allow grading challenges, etc.) and after that time expires they dispose of them in secure disposal bins. The period of time is usually something like 2-4 semesters past the original course, depending on the institution. In cases where a lecturer uses online tools for student assignments, or saves them in softcopy format, it is possible that the work might be preserved indefinitely.

In theory, student work could be used to try to detect self-plagiarism across different courses, but they are not usually shared between different lecturers so that would be unlikely (and academics are generally much too busy for this kind of exercise). As far as using those materials for research, in theory that is possible, but it would require ethics clearance.

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