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Universities crack down on 'inventive' cheats

Last updated 05:00 17/03/2013

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Universities have launched an unprecedented crackdown on cheating students - including fines and unpaid labour - as students find ever-more inventive ways to rort the system.

Information released to Fairfax Media under the Official Information Act from seven universities shows hundreds of students were penalised for academic misconduct last year.

According to the figures, 75 students were accused of academic misconduct at Victoria University, 56 at Massey, 22 at Auckland, 46 at Otago, 66 at AUT, 20 at Lincoln, and 17 at Canterbury.

Academic misconduct includes plagiarism (using others' words or ideas without attribution), collaborating with other students, resubmitting work counted against another course and taking cellphones or unauthorised notes in a test or exam.

Methods identified included hiding course notes in bathrooms, in calculators or in pencil cases, writing notes on hands and arms and copying from other students.

One Otago University mathematics student even suggested he might "buy a pass" from a lecturer in 2011.

Social media and smartphones are also presenting challenges for universities.

In 2011 an Auckland University biology student was fined $250, and issued with a letter of reprimand and a fail grade for accessing websites on an iPhone during an exam.

In the same year, another Auckland student was punished for disclosing the contents of an examination to a classmate over Facebook.

Though the number of misconduct cases have remained stable over recent years, the penalties imposed have varied greatly as all institutions have different punishment regimes.

Consequences of academic dishonesty range from warnings and remedial sessions with learning consultants to repeating assessments, receiving reduced or zero marks for an assessment, or failing the entire course, depending on the level of seriousness.

Some universities, including Canterbury and Auckland, are imposing fines of as much as $750 as punishment on top of a loss of academic credit.

Under Victoria University's academic misconduct statute, cheating in an exam can result in the failure of the course and exclusion from study for one or more semesters.

Last year, a Canterbury University student was required to attend one session of counselling and complete 25 hours' community service with the university's security facilities, for attempting to "dishonestly procure" others' help with an assignment.

Another student at the same university was ordered to do eight hours' unpaid labour for breaching instructions during supervised tests in 2011.

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Pete Hodkinson, president of the Union of Students' Associations, said different institutions had different understandings of what were appropriate consequences for academic misconduct.

For this reason, it was important that students had clear understandings of what was expected of them.

"Significant responsibility rests with tertiary education organisations to ensure students, domestic and especially international, are appropriately orientated into the academic expectations of the institutions they attend.

"If this doesn't occur, students who have been educated under alternative conventions may be set up to fail."


Academic misconduct in 2012

Otago University 46

Lincoln University 20

Massey University 56

Victoria University 75

Auckland University 22

AUT University 66

Canterbury University 17

Academic misconduct

Accessing websites on iPhone during exam

Unauthorised notes on hand and arm during exam

Taking unauthorised notes written on cover of calculator into exam

Hiding course notes in toilet during exam

Forging a medical certificate to get an extension

Attempting to "buy a pass" from lecturer

Writing a report on a field trip they didn't attend

- Sunday Star Times


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