‘Invisible ink’ student pays high price for cheating

Imaginative method is detailed in sector ombudsman’s latest annual report

May 4, 2017
man being painted to blend in
Source: Rex
Hidden talent: some students are resorting to ever-more-imaginative ways to cheat

With micro-earpieces, smart watches and miniature mobile phones confiscated from exams in recent years, it seems students are resorting to ever-more-imaginative ways to cheat.

To this list of cunning plans can now be added another ingenious exam scam.

According to the latest annual report by the higher education ombudsman serving England and Wales, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, a law student was caught red-handed with 24 pages of unauthorised notes written in “invisible UV ink”.

The notes – contained within a statute book she took into the examination – were retained as evidence after she was seen using them by other students, according to the report published on 4 May.

“The student did not deny the offence but appealed on the basis of unfair penalty [she was failed for all of her modules in that year], extenuating circumstances and procedural error,” reports the OIA.

The student’s appeal to the OIA was judged “not justified” as the institution involved had “demonstrated that the penalty was in line with its own procedures and reasonable in the circumstances”, it adds.

News of the student’s appeal is one of several complaints detailed in the OIA’s 2016 report and comes amid concerns of a growing “epidemic” of cheating in universities.

As part of a investigation published in The Times in January 2016, the newspaper stated that UK universities had handled more than 50,000 cases of alleged cheating over the previous three years. Last month, The Guardian found technology-enabled cheating incidents had increased 42 per cent since 2012 and now represented a quarter of those found guilty of cheating.


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Despite growing concern over the rise in such incidents, plagiarism and academic dishonesty featured in only 4 per cent of the 1,668 cases closed by the OIA in 2016.

The bulk of appeals to the OIA, which can adjudicate on complaints only if students have exhausted the internal appeal process at their institution, related to “academic status”, with 53 per cent centred on student disputes about their grades.

In fact, the number of cases related to academic misconduct dropped “significantly” in 2016 compared with previous years, says the OIA report.

The overall number of complaints received by the OIA also dropped dramatically last year, falling from 1,850 in 2015 to 1,517 in 2016, an 18 per cent decrease.

It means that appeals received by the OIA are now at their lowest level since 2010, defying predictions that complaints to the ombudsman would soar when £9,000-a-year tuition fees were introduced in England in 2012.

Financial remedies were offered to more than 150 students by providers in 2016 after the OIA’s intervention, including a £22,581 payout to a PhD student who withdrew from her studies after the relationship with her supervisor broke down. In total, compensation of £293,000 was paid to students while another £59,000 was paid in settled cases, the report adds.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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