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Increase in cheating at top universities

The last three years have seen a sharp increase in the number of cheating incidences at top universities, according to figures taken from freedom of information requests by The Guardian.

According to these figures, the number of academic misconduct cases at Russell Group universities has risen by 40% between the academic years 2014-15 and 2016-17, increasing from 2,640 to 3,721.

Coming a year after the then-Universities Minister Jo Johnson announced a “crackdown” on cheating in universities and seven months after the National Union of Students (NUS) produced guidance on cheating, this report highlights current concerns about cheating in the UK higher education sector.

In light of The Guardian’s findings, Thomas Lancaster, who is one of the UK’s leading experts on essay cheating as well as a senior teaching fellow at Imperial College London, commented: “A growing number of young people also feel more pressure than ever before, often turning to cheating to help them get through their degrees. It’s also easier to access websites that offer paid-to-order essays.”

A growing number of young people also feel more pressure than ever before, often turning to cheating to help them get through their degrees

— Thomas Lancaster

He added: “Universities need to keep better records about the different types of academic misconduct students are engaging in. We still don’t have accurate numbers breaking down how many students are being caught copying from different sources and how many are contract cheating.

“We’re still seeing ‘essay mills’ blatantly advertise around university campuses. In the past weeks alone, I know of one essay firm going around university to university… and handing out shiny business cards to students.”

Furthermore, a BBC investigation recently found that YouTubers are being paid to promote Ukraine-based essay mill EduBirdie. It revealed that over 1,400 videos with more than 700 million views feature adverts for this company.

Sam Gyimah, Universities Minister for England, condemned such advertising on YouTube, commenting: “It’s clearly wrong because it is enabling and normalising cheating potentially on an industrial scale.”

It’s clearly wrong because it is enabling and normalising cheating potentially on an industrial scale

— Sam Gyimah

He added: “I think YouTube has a huge responsibility here. They do incredibly well from the advertising revenue that they get from the influencers and everyone else. But this is something that is corrosive to education and I think YouTube has got to step up to the plate and exercise some responsibility here.”

Jayoti Shah, a second-year History student stated: “I think there’s a growing sense that university is a means to an end and a business, so people are more willing to pay for a good essay.”

However, Alex Holmes, a postgrad studying Mathematics for Real-World Systems, notes: “You then can’t take any pride in the work you’ve done, and it completely defeats the point of you being here to get an education.”

The University of Warwick classes plagiarism as a “serious offence,” and in the case of cheating, Heads of Department may nullify an assessment or bring the issue to a Senate disciplinary committee, which has the power to enforce more severe penalties.

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