Cheating is on the rise in Irish universities and colleges with business studies students most likely to be accused of “academic dishonesty”.
Since 2010, there have been at least 2,300 cases of students cheating at universities and institutes of technology, according to information compiled by The Irish Times based on Freedom of Information requests.
The volume of cases has been rising annually across most colleges at a time when technology is making it easier to cheat by concealing smartphones or other electronic devices in exam halls or plagiarising, using so-called essay mills online.
A breakdown of cases of cheating across colleges indicates that business studies students are more likely to cut corners – or at least get caught doing so – in exams.
In UCD, for example, business studies students over recent years have consistently accounted for up to 40 per cent of "academic misconduct", even though they account for just over 20 per cent of students.
There was a similar pattern at many other third-level institutions such as DIT, where about 30 per cent of misconduct cases involved students from its college of business, and Dundalk IT, where about half of students involved in exam infringements were studying business courses.
However, arts students are the worst offenders when it comes to plagiarism or failing to credit other people’s work in their assignments.
Records from UCD – which maintains the most detailed records – show arts students were easily the worst offenders, accounting for almost 80 per cent of plagiarism cases. This may be because information on some arts subjects such as politics, history and English is widely available online.
While technology is providing new ways to cut academic corners, time-honoured approaches to cheating remain popular.
Records show that in IT Tallaght, one student admitted to “writing on her hand so that she could use ‘fancy’ words in her answer”. The student was given an F grade and made repeat the module.
At IT Sligo, a student was disciplined for forging a medical cert to get out of an assignment, while two students at the same college were caught sneaking notes inside their calculator covers.
At Dundalk IT, which keeps detailed records of how students cheat, a student asked the invigilator if they could use a dictionary. When told that he could, the student was found using his phone and the device was confiscated.
Another student at the same institute managed to conceal some 65 pages of notes in the exam hall which were later found.
The consequences for cheating vary across different institutions, ranging from penalties such as a reduction in marks, letters of warning, fines, suspension or even expulsion.
In practice, expulsion is rare. At IT Carlow, for example, 68 students were suspected of cheating between 2011 and 2017. Of these, 60 were given a penalty, one student was forced to repeat their exams and another was excluded from college for 12 months.
In IADT Dún Laoghaire, one cheat had their entire degree capped at a pass.
The harshest penalties appear to be doled out at the National College of Ireland, where 279 cases of academic misconduct between 2011 and 2018 led to 25 expulsions and 76 suspensions.
The Government has pledged to help take action against cheating by cracking down on essay mills.
New legislation will give the State’s education quality watchdog powers to prosecute any service that advertises essay mills and other forms of academic cheating. However, it will be difficult to target services based outside the State which will still be accessible to students.