Two-thirds of New Zealand undergraduates admit to cheating

Universities must gear themselves up to deal with an activity that has ‘evolutionary roots’, academic integrity expert argues

四月 8, 2024
A student in an exam copies from things written on their hand
Source: iStock/vchal

Cheating is “natural and normal” and New Zealand universities must be ready to deal with it, according to an architect of the first comprehensive study of academic wrongdoing by Kiwi undergraduates.

The survey of almost 4,500 students found that deception was rife, with two in three respondents admitting to academic misconduct over the previous year.

Colluding with other students on ostensibly individual coursework was the most common form of cheating, confessed to by three in 10 respondents. One in five admitted plagiarising a few sentences, falsifying references or downloading course materials without permission.

Fourteen per cent of respondents owned up to plagiarising entire assignments, while 10 per cent admitted fabricating research data. Fifteen per cent said they had used artificial intelligence (AI) tools to produce academic work.

“That certainly has doubled or tripled by now,” said lead author Jason Stephens, an educational psychologist and academic integrity adviser at the University of Auckland. “We collected this data right before the release of ChatGPT. The majority of our cases now are AI.”

Dr Stephens said Covid had also increased opportunities for cheating by forcing more activities online. He condemned remote exams conducted “without any kind of invigilation or proctoring” as a form of “educational or assessment malpractice”.

“We’re…basically just setting students up to cheat, and then doing nothing about it. Not all of them are cheating, but many are. We have little means of detecting it and correcting it. They’re getting away with an unfair advantage that is disadvantaging…honest students.”

Will ChatGPT change our definitions of cheating?

The study has been published in the New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies. The authors say the prevalence of academic misconduct warrants action “at the highest levels of leadership”.

They say New Zealand should emulate its neighbour by adopting the requirements of Australia’s Higher Education Standards Framework. It obliges universities and colleges to implement policies and procedures that guide students about academic integrity, address misconduct or misconduct allegations, mitigate foreseeable risks and prevent recurring breaches.

Dr Stephens said the incidence of self-reported cheating in New Zealand was similar to levels in Australia, Canada, Ireland and the US. Its prevalence should surprise nobody because deception was a “default mechanism” in many lifeforms right down to plants, such as orchids that tricked male wasps into pollinating them by mimicking female wasps’ sex pheromones.

“We have a sense of justice and fairness [but] deception runs deeper and older as an evolutionary mechanism to help us succeed [and] save energy,” Dr Stephens said. “At a conscious level, we sort of justify it. We say, ‘it’s not my fault, it’s the teachers fault’ [or] ‘don’t blame me, I’m just going with the herd’. These are psychological mechanisms that allow us to engage in behaviour that we otherwise would say is wrong.”

He said cheating’s “evolutionary roots” were no excuse for complacency. “We need to expect that…students are going to violate the code on occasion. We need to be vigilant about that and engage in some corrective action when they do.”

The survey found that some forms of cheating were rare. Just 1 per cent admitted to paying others to do their exams or assignments, while 2 per cent had used devices such as smart glasses or watches in exams.

The authors, who come from six of New Zealand’s eight universities, plan to use the survey findings as a baseline for analysing future results.



  • 注册是免费的,而且十分便捷
  • 注册成功后,您每月可免费阅读3篇文章
  • 订阅我们的邮件
Please 登录 or 注册 to read this article.


Reader's comments (3)

It will become easier and easier for students to 'contract cheat' and use other AI methods to boost their marks. There is an associated academic integrity factor that specialists in the area are reluctant to address, probably for fear of retribution by peers and superiors in the education 'business'. As reported in several Times Higher Education articles, many academics are under pressure to inflate grades by allocating marks that students have not earned (i.e. soft assessment). Thus, students already know some lecturers are cheating them through, which surely causes them to assume cheating is acceptable if not universal. Staff cheating is an incentive to students to do likewise. In Australia, even academics in roles such as 'Associate Director (Academic Integrity and Evaluation)' and professorial 'researcher of assessment and cheating', have made it clear to me that they are uninterested in exploring the relationship.
The flip side of the study is that 1/3 do not cheat. It is unclear how that fact fits with the hypothesis that cheating is driven by deep evolutionary roots. Perhaps the next study should look at why those students do not cheat, and what can be learned in encouraging others not to cheat. Possible reasons: - sufficient self-confidence that cheating is not ever considered - sufficient support through formative work that again there is no motivation to consider cheating - self awareness that making mistakes is helpful and a necessary part of learning - cost benefit-analysis: the cost of [being caught ] cheating far outweighs any possible benefit. So if the incidence of cheating has increased what has changed in the system to tip the balance from the behaviour of the 1/3 to that of the 2/3?
A critical missing ingredient is HEI's provision of learning-oriented applications of AI. Unless we give students a viable and ethical alternative, more will be drawn towards plagiarism.