The British Psychological Society's Annual Conference: Cheating 'is widespread at universities'

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THE FIRST survey of cheating among students at British universities reveals that the practice is widespread, with about 12 per cent admitting to 'copying' from a neighbour during an exam.

Eight per cent of students surveyed said they had taken crib sheets into an exam hall, while 5 per cent said they had 'communicated an answer' to another student using notes, by whispering or hand signals.

The most common form of cheating was plagiarism. Fifty per cent of the study group admitted attempting to pass off someone else's work as their own, by paraphrasing quotes from a published work and failing to give a reference. Forty per cent said they had 'fabricated' references at the end of an essay.

The next most likely misdemeanour was hiding vital reference books on the wrong shelves in the university library so that fellow students would not have access to them for course work and essays. A third of students said they had been guilty of this.

Professor Stephen Newstead and colleagues of Plymouth University told the British Psychological Society conference in Brighton yesterday that he was 'surprised' by what the survey revealed. More than 1,000 students from universities throughout Britain completed an anonymous and confidential questionnaire about their cheating habits.

Professor Newstead identified 21 types of cheating behaviour - ranging from listing false references at the end of an essay to arranging for someone else to sit an exam for you - and asked the students to say if they had used one or more of those methods in the previous year. Cheating was common in course and exam work, particularly among science and technology graduates where the information lent itself more to the possiblity of cheating.

Men reported more cheating than women and cheating was more likely among students who were studying as a 'stop-gap' alternative to getting a job. Pressure of time was the most common reason given for dishonest behaviour.

Professor Newstead said that universities and institutes of higher education had to make clear to students what constituted cheating. 'Before we start cracking the whip, we have got to make it clear to students what we find acceptable and what we don't,' he said. Lecturers may be giving the students the wrong message.

'We look on course work as a learning experience . . . for students it is just another hurdle for them to get through and the mark (they get) is of paramount importance. Perhaps we should be clarifying it.' Some universities issued guidelines and outlined the penalties students who cheated could expect, but many did not offer any guidance. Professor Newstead conceded that one of the pradoxes of the study was that 'we do not know if students are being honest about their dishonest behaviour'.

The study is now being extended to include students from other countries to determine if there are cultural differences in cheating