Fraudulent students jeopardize their qualifications and their university

Cheating on exams is a constant in the lives of higher education students, but after institutions largely abandoned pen and paper testing during the COVID-19 pandemic years, some New South Wales universities are reporting unprecedented attempts to game the system.

At the University of Sydney, the number of students caught cheating on exams more than tripled in 2022 compared to the previous year. The University of NSW reported a 79 per cent increase over the same period. In one case at UNSW in 2022, 194 engineering students were caught discussing every exam question online during a two-and-a-half hour exam.

Universities are grappling with a record rise in exam cheating due to online assessments.

Universities are grappling with a record rise in exam cheating due to online assessments.Credit: Peter Braig

Given the huge increase in cheating cases discovered, it is no surprise that the University of Sydney has seen a 45 per cent drop in attempts to game and manipulate the system since returning to written exams. In the second semester, only 5.5 percent of exams will take place online and international students must be on site. However, other universities are sticking with online tests. UNSW will instead focus on how assessments can be designed to minimize the risk of misconduct.

The overseas education industry is worth about $40 billion a year to Australia, trailing only iron ore, coal and natural gas as exports, but government cuts have forced the economy into the tertiary sector. Guy Curtis, an academic integrity expert at the University of Western Australia, pointed out that some universities liked online exams for their efficiency in grading, no need for physical venues and the ability to avoid paying or arranging proctors .

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The problem of university students cheating or engaging in what is euphemistically referred to as “academic misconduct” may sound simple, but in reality it is quite complex. It’s about ethics, economics, culture and technology.

The current generation of students are the so-called “digital natives”, where the cultural and technological elements come into play. Universities have a duty to help students understand the profound difference between the pursuit of knowledge through reason and rigorous intellectual research by accessing so-called known unknowns via the Internet. Wikipedia, for example, is a useful resource for resolving social disputes about facts, but little more than a starting point for academic study. It also does not involve agreements or the use of online platforms such as Facebook, WeChat and Discord.

Even before these latest figures were announced, the media had been reporting for years about a thriving underground online trade in essays and the like. A 2008 study found that at least half of Australian university students reported cheating at least once, although a large proportion committed relatively minor indiscretions, such as cheating. B. Lying to get deadline extensions for assignments (23 percent) and changing attendance lists (21 percent).

Anyone with the intelligence to be in college knows that cheating is cheating – and that it is not acceptable at any level. Australian universities owe it to themselves, their students and the nation to publicly adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards “academic misconduct”. They should make it clear that they charge fees but are not for sale in any way.

Justin Scaccy

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