One in six UK students admits cheating in online exams

A third say cheating should be seen as only mildly wrong or not wrong at all

July 13, 2022
Source: Getty

One in every six university students in the UK has admitted to cheating while taking online exams in the past academic year but only 5 per cent of them were caught, according to a survey.

In further evidence that the scale of cheating in higher education appears to be becoming an ever-greater problem, a third of the 900 undergraduates who responded to the poll said they believed it was only mildly wrong or not wrong at all.

Alpha Academic Appeals – a legal service that helps students contest university decisions – commissioned the survey earlier this month.

Despite exams this year being far less disrupted by Covid measures, many universities chose to keep online assessment practices adopted during the pandemic and 100 per cent of the respondents said they had taken an online test this academic year.

The survey pointed to this as a potential reason for the high levels of cheating; 52 per cent of those surveyed said they knew people who had cheated when taking a test online and 79 per cent said they believed it was easier to cheat when not in an exam hall.

Asked what methods they had used to cheat, those who admitted doing so said that they had messaged a friend for help, used Google to find out an answer or asked their parents to check answers before they were submitted.

Cheating was admitted to across all years of study with the proportion slightly higher among those in their first year.

A third said that their university had introduced measures to stop cheating, such as online proctoring software, but 37 per cent said their institution had not taken this step.

Companies offering these types of services have proliferated during the pandemic but previous research has found that cheating still occurs even when an online proctor is present.

Daniel Sokol, a former university lecturer and lead barrister at Alpha Academic Appeals, said the research was commissioned to assess the prevalence of cheating in online exams, because universities themselves were not conducting this sort of research owing to the potential reputational damage.

“The research shows that cheating is a major problem in academic institutions in the UK and that far more needs to be done to tackle it,” he added.

“Sadly, there is little appetite for universities to recognise the significance of the problem, but it is of great importance to employers who rely on degree grades to aid recruitment.  

“For some subjects, like medicine, dentistry, and pharmacy, cheating in exams can result in unqualified students graduating and exposing others to risk of serious harm.”

Dr Sokol said he hoped the “sobering” findings would prompt universities who intend to continue with online assessments to “invest in the necessary human, financial and technical resources to ensure the integrity of the assessment process".

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