The Main building of the University with the South of Glasgow behind it
Credit: University of Glasgow

New testing measures introduced after cheating rose exponentially last year

By Jordan Hunter

Cheating stats show that reported incidents of cheating increased exponentially in the 2020/2021 year and have consequences for exams this term.

A freedom of information request on behalf of The Glasgow Guardian shows that cheating figures have been on the rise and largely concentrated in a handful of departments. The 2020/21 academic year saw over 868 reported allegations, an increase from the previous year which only saw around 446 reported allegations. Cheating figures prior to this were more or less stagnant as there were only around 414 reported complaints five years ago. 

Similar freedom of information requests were sent to universities all around Scotland. While many including Stirling, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh saw significant increases, only Dundee saw a spike to the level that Glasgow has seen. Strathclyde interestingly had only five allegations, three more than the previous year, but has only had 23 total allegations in the last five  years with only 21 actual reviewed incidents.

The incidents in Glasgow seemed to be concentrated in the Engineering school which had 201 recorded reports, which was dramatically up from the prior year which only saw 15 recorded allegations. They were followed behind the Adam Smith Business school which saw 169 reported incidents. Adam Smith has perennially been around the top in cheating with an average of 90 reports a year over the last five years. 

Those leading in the least reported incidents, all of which had less than 15 total reports across the five year period were The School of Veterinary medicine, The College of Arts Graduate School, The School of Interdisciplinary Studies, and the School of Nursing and Midwifery. 

The largest form of cheating was plagiarism, with 332 reports of plagiarism on exams and 448 reports of cheating on coursework. Prior to last year, excluding plagiarism, the most common form of cheating was calculator misuse on exams. Which saw 324 allegations over the last five years, but last year saw zero reports, likely due to the difficulty of catching the calculator misuse. 

“The largest form of cheating was plagiarism, with 332 reports of plagiarism on exams and 448 reports of cheating on coursework.”

The likelihood of facing penalties decreased sharply. In the years prior there was consistently about 91% chance of facing a penalty if caught. Last year saw a 80% chance of facing a penalty in the cases that have already been adjudicated. While some cases are potentially still pending there are already historic highs in terms of penalties. The most common penalty was a mark down of the letter grade H, or zero marks, which happened in 417 cases. In general there were 509 incidents where marks were reduced in some form. There were additionally 415 reprimands issued last year, which has continually been the most common outcome with an annual average of 264 being issued for cheating.

Penalties seem to be stiffer as there were only 15 required written apologies which was a sharp decline from five years ago which saw 158 written apologies. Despite the stiffer penalties in terms of marks and more reported incidents, there were zero suspensions and less than five expulsions. These have never been popular punishments for cheating as there were less than five suspensions in the past five years, none of which were last year, and less than 15 expulsions through the five year period.

SRC Vice President of Education, Mia Clarke, told The Glasgow Guardian that while she has seen the figures, she believes that the most common issue was collusion as the result of departments being unclear with assessment guidelines, saying: “Online learning per se is not the cause of greater collusion allegations, it is more from my understanding that there is a lack of understanding from students what counts as collusion during an online exam.”

Ms. Clarke explained how these figures have had real consequences from  the University, noting: “The introduction of fixed time exams for some subjects has been cited as a justification in attempting to reduce the number of collusion concerns.” 

Fixed time exams have been criticised by students in these subjects, mostly for the late notice and for many still seeing the situation the same as last year, wishing for covid provisions to remain in place. Additional criticisms have been given for the turn in time of assessments. One student, Amandeep Kainth, has filed a complaint regarding this subject with 350 students signing on. He told The Glasgow Guardian: “I believe that irrespective of the window given, cheating will still occur. Even if the window is smaller, collusion is just as possible. The reduction of cheating isn’t a good enough basis to make the change to exam timings, as it will still occur.”

In response to the cheating figures a University of Glasgow spokesperson said: “There is likely to be a combination of reasons for any spike in cheating allegations, including online assessments making it easier for the University to detect occurrences. We also have an increased number of students.  “While penalties remain under review, the University is focused on preventive action and building a culture of academic integrity. Institutionally we are taking a two prong approach to tackling academic misconduct: through assessment design and working with the SRC to develop a culture of academic integrity.”


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