The Irish Times view on cheating in third-level exams: Education is key to tackling problem

Latest studies indicate one in seven student believed to have engaged in ‘contract cheating’

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock

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Cheating in higher education has never been easier. Online essay-writing services allow students to access written-to-order assignments and dissertations at a few hours’ notice. Smartphones and small electronic devices can provide access to information in an exam hall and allow students to gain an unfair advantage.

Attempting to cut corners is nothing new, of course. But if college records are anything to go by, a growing number of students stand accused of violating standards of academic integrity. Since 2010, there have been at least 2,300 cases of cheating at universities and institutes of technology, according to information compiled by The Irish Times based on Freedom of Information requests. Numbers have been rising annually across most colleges.

This is not just an Irish problem. Latest studies indicate that as many as one in seven students globally is believed to have engaged in some form of “contract cheating” – paying others to do assignments for them.

Tackling the problem is more complex than might first appear. Higher education institutions can already impose a range of sanctions such as a reduction in marks, letters of warning, fines, suspension or even expulsion. But these measures do not seem to be a disincentive to a relatively small cohort of students.

Moves to introduce a new law which will ban so-called essay mills from advertising in Ireland are a positive step. These new powers will be given to the academic standards watchdog, Quality & Qualifications Ireland. However, it will not stop firms based outside the State from trawling social media with automated accounts in search of vulnerable students who post about essay deadlines and work panic.

Education itself is key to tackling this problem. Colleges need to continue highlighting the damaging consequences of cheating and actively warning students about the importance of submitting genuine work. Many institutions do so already. Others need to step up to the mark if confidence in the system is to be protected.

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