Cheating at UK’s top universities soars by 40%

The number of reported cases of academic misconduct involving students at top UK universities has noticeably increased in the last three years.

Experts have been critical, claiming that universities are disregarding the issue.

Figures compiled by The Guardian indicate that the number of incidents of cheating rose by 40%, from 2,640 in the 2014-15 academic year to 3,721 in 2016-17. The number of plagiarism incidents also rose, soaring 35% from 1,689 to 2,284 in the same period.

Out of the 24 Russell Group universities used in the study, including both Oxford and Cambridge, 19 reported cases of academic misconduct and 15 of plagiarism.

Thomas Lancaster, senior teaching fellow at Imperial College London, said: “a growing number of young people … feel more pressure than ever before, often turning to cheating to help them get through their degrees”.

He went on to highlight that the access to websites offering paid-to-order essays is easier and, therefore, more students opt to use such services.

The figures were published amongst growing governmental concern regarding so-called contract cheating, in which students turn to ghostwriters to complete assignments. Only a handful of the 24 Russell Group universities record details of contract cheating separately.

Lancaster University noted that while institutions are getting better at recording incidents, cheating is dealt with inconsistently with many institutions simply “assuming it’s not their problem”.

The number of cases recorded at Leeds University more than doubled from 181 (2014-15) to 433 (2016-17), which marks one of the biggest increases in reports of university cheating. At Glasgow University the figures rose from 161 to 394 over the same period of time.

In 2017, the then universities minister Jo Johnson spoke of clamping down on contract cheating; however, while a number of universities are reviewing their academic misconduct processes, most have yet to update them.

According to Lancaster University, there is a need to keep “better records about the different types of academic misconduct students are engaging in”.

They went on to state that: “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”.

Essay-mill websites have raised concerns, particularly as some are aggressively targeting students by handing out business cards, spamming email accounts and sending direct messages on social media sites such as Twitter.

To counter this, the Advertising Standards Agency ruled this year that such essay-mill websites will have to warn students that they are at risk of being punished by their universities for submitting falsified work.