University on the lookout for cheats

04:21, Oct 25 2012

More than 900 students have been caught cheating at the University of Waikato since 2007 and with end-of-year exams approaching staff are on high alert.

Figures released to the Waikato Times show there were 904 cases of academic misconduct at the university since 2007, peaking last year with 227.

As at September 30 this year, only 76 cheaters had been caught, with that number expected to rise during end of year assessments.

Since 2009, the Waikato has netted the highest number of cheats of any university in the country.

A vast majority of misconduct was for plagiarism - taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as original - and the rest were for cheating on exams and assisting plagiarism.

Head of student and academic services, Michelle Jordan-Tong said staff were particularly vigilant in identifying cheating at exam time.

 ''Students have to produce an identification card, and exam supervisors are provided with a list of students sitting exams, plus their photos, which adds another layer of vigilance,'' she said.

This was done to avoid people sitting exams ''on behalf'' of another student.

The most common penalty for misconduct so far this year was receiving zero marks, followed by a written undertaking and repeat work.

Reasons students gave for cheating included poor time management, and misunderstanding rules around group work.

Ms Jordan-Tong said careless referencing, including failing to acknowledge direct quotes or correctly cite ideas, can lead to a plagiarism charge, even if the student may not have intended to cheat.

International students were more likely to offend than domestic students, racking up 517 cases of misconduct.

However, this year, for the first time in at least six years, that trend was starting to reverse and domestic students so far outnumbered internationals 42 to 34.

University assistant vice-chancellor Helen Pridmore said international students often lacked an understanding of plagiarism.

''One thing that we find is that international students often don't come from an academic background where the concept of plagiarism is the same as it is here.

''For example, sometimes there are histories of rote learning as opposed to the approach we have here, which is much more with insights into what it means to apply your own thinking and to express what you learn in your own words.''

She credited a strong focus on educating students about plagiarism for the reduction in misconduct cases so far this year.

She said cheating was not a bigger problem at Waikato than other universities and the high numbers were because of an intensive effort to detect and deter it.