Cheating hits bizarre new heights in Australian universities and schools
May 09, 2016 | News | by The Learning Press staff
There is a hit TV series called Suits which boasts millions of fans around the world.
The main character is a fraudster - a smart kid who who makes a living by taking law exams for rich students.
It makes for great escapist entertainment as long as you can suspend your disbelief about such a far-fetched scenario.
Unless you’re one of the students at Sydney University who, in a bizarre life-imitates-art twist, has paid an impersonator to sit your exams for you.
It seems the nation’s brightest young things are resorting to desperate measures to cheat their way to the top.
The spirit of Mike Ross is alive and well - and it’s stalking the hallowed halls of one of Australia’s most prestigious universities.
A taskforce was set up by Sydney University (USYD) to examine academic misconduct across its faculties last year after a string of high-profile cheating scandals rocked the establishment.
It has exposed an underbelly of corruption - not just the spectre of quick-brained impersonators, but also black market doctors’ certificates, hidden exam-room technology and the old-fashioned copying of multiple choice answers.
And while USYD is particularly proactive in taking steps to identify and resolve the issues, the problem of cheating is one the rise nationally and globally.
The report warns that universities around the world are struggling to tackle "rapidly rising substitution and impersonation" in exams.
Technology has enabled a rapid growth in the age-old process of ghost writing, the report says, with online ghost writers in developing economies providing a cheap and accessible service for those looking to pass their online tests and assignments tests with minimum pain.
Biometric identification - using unique biological identifiers like fingerprints, signatures, hand geometry, earlobe geometry, retina and iris patterns - is increasingly being used by universities to combat cheating in exam rooms.
But even this has its limits, with fingertip films “in common use” according to the report.
Students are also believed to use mini cameras to photograph papers which they can then distribute to others, or to use fake doctors’ notes which allow them to take the same exam on another day.
At the University of NSW, all watches have now been banned from exam rooms to ensure students are not able to use smartwatch technology to cheat.
The USYD report found that plagiarism, recycling and collusion were all affecting take-home assignments, while cheating was occurring in around 5 per cent of formal multiple choice exams.
“Exam cheating has also been facilitated by the internet and the rise of portable personal devices, particularly smartphones with photographic and internet browsing capabilities,” it states.
“Social media facilitates students disseminating stolen exam papers or questions rapidly, and there have been several recent cases of this across the University.”
And it seems high school students, too, are becoming increasingly audacious in their dishonest pursuit of top scores, with more than 300 instances of plagiarism recorded this year in NSW Board of Studies data.
One HSC student using the pseudonym "Mr Bean" was found to be reading from prepared notes three times in one exam before teachers took action and his grades were revoked.
He was not alone. According to the Board of Studies, other students also continued to access material on their phones during assessments, despite repeated warnings.
It seems a new generation of cheats, emboldened by the opportunities presented by new technology, is threatening the integrity of our learning establishments.
The USYD report warns that “the problem of cheating in exams is not trivial”.
It advocates better student education on the nature and consequences of cheating - so, for example, undergraduates do not fall into the trap of negligent plagiarism - and greater awareness among task-setters of the opportunities for dishonesty.
And it suggests prevention and detection mechanisms including “championing academic integrity” for coursework, a comprehensive record of offenders, and treating exams as “non-confidential after first use”.
The report says: “There is clear, and clearly significant, underreporting and under detection at the university.
“Academic dishonesty is most effectively addressed through the application of both education strategies and detection measures.”
So Mike Ross be warned - USYD is on the lookout for imposters in its exam rooms and you’ll struggle to make it through the biometric exam even if you do ace the LSATS.
And for those high school students unlucky enough to be sitting in an exam next to Mr Bean, make sure you put your arm over your multiple choice answers…