University of Auckland fraud cases have been rising since the pandemic

Fraud cases have skyrocketed during the pandemic. Photo / 123rf

A New Zealand university has caught about 30 times as many students cheating on exams since the pandemic began, new data shows.

But an expert on academic integrity says that despite what appears to be an alarming rise in cases, today’s students are no less ethical – there are just more opportunities to cheat now, and in many cases it’s easier to get caught.

The Herald on Sunday asked New Zealand’s eight universities how many cases of academic misconduct they had acknowledged in the past five years.

On average, during the pandemic years, confirmed fraud cases at the University of Auckland increased by 153 per cent compared to 2019 and Canterbury by 214 per cent. Victoria University of Wellington was up 9 percent, Waikato was up 5 percent and Otago was up 19 percent. However, cases confirmed at Massey University fell 4 per cent and those at Auckland University of Technology (AUT) fell 27 per cent. Cases being investigated at Lincoln fell 61 percent, although not all were confirmed.

The average masked year-to-year variations, as in Victoria, where cheating behavior rose in 2020 before returning to baseline, and in Waikato, where cases rose by a third that year and then to 2018 levels went back.

Cheating on exams and plagiarism were the most common, but in some cases students also bought answers or even entire assignments online.

Penalties can range from lost grades to disciplinary action and, in egregious cases, expulsion.

By far the most scammers were caught at Auckland University, which even accounts for the university’s larger role.

While coursework cheating had declined in Auckland during the pandemic, there was a nearly 27-fold increase in exam cheating cases from 2019 to 2020 – from 27 cases to 723 – and 831 in 2021.

This reflects “the examination office’s diligence in uncovering violations of academic integrity in the new online exams,” the university said in a statement on the data.

Auckland University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, Professor Bridget Kool, said there has been more exam cheating during the pandemic, “but we’ve also really improved our detection rates, which I find encouraging because we can then monitor and see if.” what we do. re doing is working”.

Processes had improved since the sudden move to online in 2020, when first semester exams remained open for 24 hours.

This extra time had given students the opportunity to discuss answers or even take the exam together, as well as ask questions and get answers on third-party scam sites.

“It should be a generous gesture to say … we know it’s difficult and you may have internet issues,” Kool said.

“So we leave them open for as long as possible. And of course many students took advantage of that. So we didn’t repeat that.”

The university is developing more authentic assessment practices aimed at student understanding rather than information retrieval, and will likely see a “general move away from exams.”

The university also planned to block access to fraudulent websites internally and Kool had asked Universities NZ if New Zealand could follow Australia’s example and block the most visited fraudulent websites nationwide.

The vast majority of students did the right thing, Kool said, and a select few were “naïve” when they began their studies. “And then there’s a small percentage who — no matter what we do — will try extremely hard to disregard the system, even though we’re doing our best to keep up.”

Jason Stephens, Associate Professor at the University of Auckland, has been researching fraud for two decades.

He said around 70 to 80 percent of students would admit to having engaged in at least one cheating behavior in any given year – mostly by collusion with others on “individual” work, but plagiarism is also common.

Exam cheating was less common, but his own research had found that around 5 to 6 percent of students cheated on exams. Auckland has spotted about 2 per cent of students cheating on exams during the pandemic – which is probably less than half the true figure, he said.

University of Auckland associate professor Jason Stephens says cheating is normal human behavior - but a university's job is to encourage students to develop integrity.  Photo / Included
University of Auckland associate professor Jason Stephens says cheating is normal human behavior – but a university’s job is to encourage students to develop integrity. Photo / Included

Stephens believed that the universities that did not see an increase in fraud over the past two years were “frankly not doing their job”.

“I can guarantee you that your students will cheat as much as students anywhere else.”

Higher education is locked in an arms race with companies offering fraud services, Stephens said.

He saw more use of “learning” platforms like Chegg and Course Hero, where students could ask questions and get the answers. But a new service called Assignment Watch promised to counteract this by monitoring major websites and notifying professors when their assignment or exam questions were posted online.

Universities are also increasing their use of Turnitin, a plagiarism checking computer program.

However, artificial intelligence technology has only gotten more sophisticated – from paraphrasing services like QuillBot to AI that could spit out realistic-sounding paragraphs with a one-sentence prompt.

“Ultimately, it’s an arms race that we’re going to lose,” Stephens said.

Much of his work has focused on helping students act consistently according to their beliefs.

Stephens said cheating is natural human behavior — it saves energy and gives people a competitive advantage — but most people also thought it was wrong.

And the more students saw others cheat, the more likely they were to do it themselves.

“They feel like, ‘God, if I’m not a cheater, then I’m a jerk… I’m just being cheaters.’ This is a terrible situation to put students in, and as institutions and teachers we need to take this seriously.”

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