Student cheat forces a review

September 11, 1998

The rigour of Oxford University's examinations system was called into question this week, following news that the student union president was able to use her personal computer in her final examinations and submit downloaded, pre-written essays.

The university said this week that it may have to review its exam regulations after student union president Katherine Rainwood admitted that she had used "unfair means" in her final exams.

Ms Rainwood has been sent down.

The university has defended its examinations system, arguing that the fact that Ms Rainwood's cheating has been discovered proves the rigour of the system. But it has refused to comment on how the cheating was discovered or fully explain the circumstances in which Ms Rainwood was allowed to use her personal computer, although it has confirmed that Ms Rainwood has confessed.

Oxford confirmed that Ms Rainwood applied to the proctor for special provision because she had hurt her wrist, and that she was allowed to take her exams in a separate room with a separate invigilator, and was allowed to type her answers into her personal computer.

The university's rules allow students with special needs to be given special arrangements for exams. Under the proctors' rules, those with a disability or an injury that makes it difficult to write can apply to the proctor to use a typewriter or word processor.

It is understood that Ms Rainwood's injury was legitimate, as she would normally have had to produce a medical certificate to be granted special provision. But a spokesman conceded that the rules may have to be reviewed. Ms Rainwood used a personal computer, which can hold files of data that would not be allowed in the exam.

"Technology has moved on," said the spokesman. He would not comment further. The senior proctor was unavailable for comment.

A spokeswoman for the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals said that the use of personal computers, with hard disks full of information, was a "newish" issue. "It is up to individual institutions to ensure that they have rigorous exam procedures in place," she said.

Mark Strathdene, acting president of Oxford Student Union, said that the university may need to review the detail of its exam rules, but he defended the rigour of the system. He said: "Cheating in finals does not happen much at all. The fact that she was caught suggests it is rigorous enough. And if you get special dispensation, it can be more rigorous, because you are alone in a room with an invigilator."

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