Cheating is on the rise at UK universities. Over the last three years more than 45,000 students have been found guilty of âacademic misconduct', an offense that covers a wide range of cheating sins.
Experts claimed New Labour's flagship policy of increasing access to higher education had left thousands of young people starting university without all the practical and intellectual skills required.
While blatantly plagiarized work is much more readily detected nowadays, albeit it a large financial cost to the institutions, the internet has vastly increased availability of sources for students to plagiarize. Such straightforward plagiarism may explain the rise in students cheating and being caught but of greater concern to a lot of people is the more insidious cheating of paying someone else to produce original work for you.
Such essay-writing companies are on the rise with students being willing to do anything to get ahead in a difficult economic climate and the internet gives every student access to a wide variety of them. While cheap essays are available students run the risk of the company re-using the work for someone else. For a higher price one can purchase well-written customized original essays and so effectively buy a degree. As students using this service are rarely caught the likely true percentage of cheats at university is much higher than the official figures.
Lord Willis, the Liberal Democrat peer who led an inquiry into the state of Britain's universities three years ago, said ministers had to gain control over the essay-writing companies whose products are almost impossible to detect.
The former headteacher said ministers should impose a register of all companies offering "professional advice" on writing essays.
Such cheating is of course only possible because of the move away from âend of year' examinations to gradual assessment throughout the course. Many in secondary education are now questioning the wisdom of this path as it has created a soulless classroom environment of constantly âteaching to the test' and once a module is passed the student doesn't need to retain any of the knowledge they've already been examined on and so never truly learns anything. Educators, such as Professor Geoffrey Alderman from the University of Buckingham, think this is a trend that should be reversed at the undergraduate level also.
Professor Alderman said the style of teaching and assessment now used at some institutions was partly to blame for the rise in academic dishonesty.
"There has been a move away from unseen written examinations and most university degree courses are now assessed through term papers, which makes it more tempting to commit plagiarism," he said.
"I advocate a return to the situation where it is impossible to pass a degree unit without achieving a minimum score in an unseen written test."