A recent investigation by The Independent on Sunday has revealed that a shocking 45,000 students at UK universities have been disciplined over the past three years for matters of academic cheating and misconduct.
Of the 16,000 cases reported in the past year alone, the severity of offences varied from accidentally bringing a mobile phone into an exam room to plagiarising whole assignments and dissertations from published academic material. Other incidents included students caught using crib sheets in exams and passing off essays bought from essay writing companies as their own work.
With government higher education budgets slashed and universities suddenly forced to rely on tuition fees for their income, professors are losing their jobs and class sizes are rising. Universities have less time and resources than ever to devote to supporting individual students with techniques like essay writing, which fall outside the remit of teaching them the facts they need to know for their degree.
More and more students are feeling disillusioned with the level of academic support they receive at university, and are beginning to turn elsewhere for academic help. Companies like Oxbridge Essays provide excellent sample essays they can use to help learn new techniques for structuring and shaping their writing, but with tuition fees trebling to £9000, many students are beginning to demand a higher level of support in such areas from universities themselves.
Indeed, many leading academic figures have suggested that the rising tuition fees are likely to make the problem even worse, as students paying such high prices for their degrees will be even more desperate to make sure that they come out of the experience with a top grade. With graduate unemployment at an all-time high, competition for jobs has never been tougher and university students are seemingly prepared to do almost anything to get those precious first class degrees that will allow them to stand out from the crowd.
The internet has provided a vast new challenge for university authorities trying to prevent students from cheating, as endless academic papers and journals are available online at the click of a button, enabling students easily to copy and paste chunks of text into their own essays. Plagiarism software is developing rapidly, but academics claim that it is simply not sophisticated enough to stop some academic cheats from slipping through the net.
So what causes students to cheat? They begin university with good intentions, excited about studying the subjects they are most passionate about for three years and getting a good degree along the way. But as assignments pile up and feedback is limited, panic sets in and temptation is just around the corner. It is easy to start small, with many offences involving students who shared their coursework with others or copied from friends in the year above – something many probably wouldn’t even think of as plagiarism. Some simply leave revision too late and succumb to panic when the task ahead seems insurmountable in the time remaining. Others have strong academic ideas but have never been taught how to articulate them properly in written form, or know their subject well but don’t have the best grasp of the English language and find it difficult to express themselves accurately. These students must have been academically qualified for the course in order to be given a place, so it must be a lack of academic techniques, rather than innate ability, which is leading them into hot water.
All of these issues, which contribute to the thousands of UK students turning to cheating, could be solved by greater academic support in techniques and methods of studying. If UK universities provided courses on essay writing, approaching revision, note taking and exam technique, it is likely that far fewer students would be turning to such extreme measures in their desperation to succeed.