Staff lose jobs for selling exams

August 21, 1998

An examination scandal at the University of Natal in Durban has led to the firing of two administrative staff, investigations into 14 wealthy economics and management students and concerns over the integrity of the university's degrees in those fields.

News of the "exam scam" broke in late June, when the university announced that an internal investigative team had uncovered exam fraud that dated back several months and involved wealthy final-year students buying exam papers from staff for R4,000 (Pounds 400) a copy.

Three staff were suspended after a joint operation by the university's risk management services and the police. In late July, after disciplinary hearings, the university fired two staff members and brought charges of theft and fraud against them.

Investigations into the 14 students continued after the second semester started on August 11. If expelled, the students will not, under inter-university agreements, be accepted by any other South African university.

It appears that Natal was alerted to the exam scam when some students achieved suspiciously good exam results. In a statement, David Maughan Brown, deputy vice-chancellor, said that they had been foolish. "Because of the system of continuous assessment, performance in a single examination is less crucial than it once was. A single unusually good performance in an otherwise mediocre academic career is like a spike on an ECG machine - it attracts the attention of the monitoring staff."

The scam appears to have been confined to a small group of students, but the university is concerned about the reputation of its degrees. In recent years, several exam scandals have been uncovered at South African universities.

In the statement, Professor Maughan Brown said that Natal would "act rigorously against anyone who endangers the reputation of our degrees". Besides tightening exam controls, the university is also introducing a course in ethics for all students.

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