Student cheating and the UCD examinations system

The blame for cheating in exams lies entirely at the feet of the individual students and this worrying phenomenon must not be treated solely as a UCD problem

The revelations in this newspaper that students conspired to cheat over the course of the 2008 Christmas exams constitute another blow for fairness and transparency at university level. The fact that not one, but two students approached an individual to illegally sit an exam in their place is deeply disconcerting and indicative of a larger malaise afflicting Irish society.

Make no mistake: this is a nationwide problem rather than one solely restricted to UCD. Last November, DCU’s the College View reported that “at least five DCU graduates cheated on their final exams using a hidden electronic device” and claimed that students from Trinity, UCD and DIT also availed of the device.

As one of the offending students who spoke with The University Observer said, cheating is a “third-level problem rather than a UCD problem”. With a small minority of students seemingly so intent on cheating, UCD – the biggest Irish university – is naturally the most prone to being targeted by cheats. It would therefore be unreasonable to point the figure of blame at the heads of invigilators or UCD authorities. So vast are the numbers of students attending this university that it would be almost impossible to implement a flawless system to completely mitigate the risk posed by cheats. So who is to blame?

The students, no matter which university they attend, must look to take personal responsibility and question their motives. An exemplary GPA is not something that can be taken for granted, but surely it is not worth the “worry… hanging over you” which one of the interviewees admitted to feeling.

Ultimately, we are only talking about a very limited number of college exams. Nonetheless, people who are found to be lying about the small things are often capable of lying about the big things too. To wit: dozens of cheats have been badly exposed in our society in recent months, their presence has been apparent in tribunals, our regulators and our flawed banking systems.

While the process of refining our education system is undoubtedly an ongoing one, UCD, to their credit, have enforced significant changes to the manner in which the exams are held since 2008 (when the incidents in question took place). There has been the introduction of the €50 fine for forgetting your student cards – a useful scheme, although one which may not dissuade someone who is desperate enough to cheat in the first place.

The use of additional photo ID by examiners to check the veracity of someone’s student card is another measure towards alleviating the threat of cheating. This move will perhaps put an end to students impersonating others and thus, being able to sit their exams. But potential still exists for exploitation of the system – listening devices (as mentioned already), along with fake IDs, are understood to be two prominent methods which students have adopted to gain an undue advantage over their counterparts.

And it is their counterparts who suffer most as a result of such blatant wrongdoing. It only takes one person to sully the reputation of an entire course and to discredit the validity of a degree. And yet students persist, undaunted by the implications of such actions. Why? Because it is human nature and it has “plagued education since the beginning of time,” as one of its exponents cynically told this newspaper.

And let’s be honest, it is not unreasonable to suggest that far more people than the two students interviewed would seize the opportunity to cheat if given legitimate scope to avoid the consequences that come with being caught. In November 2009, The University Observer reported that an exam was cancelled after “it emerged that some Commerce Students had photocopied their exam paper and shared copies with their counterparts in second year Business & Law who were due to sit the exam later that week”.

Therefore in short, it seems cheating remains a serious concern both within and outside the confines of UCD. So the latest revelations are ostensibly a mere footnote underpinning deeper societal issues that surely require strict vigilance and harsh sanctions.


Journalism, the internet and student politics

While the internet has in many ways improved freedom of speech and journalistic transparency, its growing prominence has also led to an increase in the dissemination of false information, as recent events have proven

It is indicative of the growing power of the internet that one or two grumblings regarding this newspaper in recent months has evolved into something far more serious altogether. The paucity of informed opinion in these online debates led to the prevalence of misguided notions concerning the paper’s finances and the elevation of myth over fact. Many of the opinions expressed on such matters have been at best misguided and at worst, wilfully malevolent.

The internet has often served as a significant aid towards enabling democracy to prevail. It has undoubtedly given voice to people who would otherwise have remained on the periphery of society. Julian Assange, for instance, would surely be unheard of were it not for its existence.

Nonetheless, more often than not the internet has also been a place where falsehoods are presented as fact, where people with no recourse to the necessary information on a topic of contention are represented as authoritative figureheads, and where ignorance is bliss essentially. Anyone can say anything without being restrained, owing to the leniency of online libel laws.

To suggest this newspaper costs €50,000 is significantly overstated, to say it is a mouthpiece for the Students’ Union when it has a history of forensically and objectively analysing the organisation (up to and including this year) and to argue that it needs to start cutting costs when it has in fact been consistently reducing costs over the past four years, constitutes a select few examples of the attempted triumph of fiction over fact.

When the prospect of a referendum and an all-too-hastily drawn up motion emanates from this blurring of fact and fiction, all interested parties must ask serious questions both of themselves and of the current regulations which gave credence to such ill-thought-out attacks on student media.

Perhaps the endless array of information readily available at the click of a mouse has been both a blessing and a curse. Perhaps it has induced laziness as much as it has inspired curiosity. Perhaps it has harmed our analytical faculties, discouraged our need to scrutinise and question opinion, and debilitated our willingness to engage in objective, thorough and sustained research.

One of the most pressing issues, as far as this university is concerned, is the lack of knowledge in relation to the Students’ Union constitution which has become apparent recently. This is one pertinent example of the laziness of the internet generation writ large. Very few people, from the Class Reps, admittedly up to and including myself, seem to possess a practical knowledge of a document that to a large extent dictates how UCD students experience life on campus.

I personally pledge to no longer take this document for granted and to develop a more thorough understanding of its guidelines, and I can only hope other Students’ Union affiliates will do the same. A continuation of this lack of knowledge will further the likelihood of potential scenarios whereby its terms are breeched, with the attendant lack of scrutiny and transparency to the detriment of all parties.

UCD is all too often an overly docile environment. Voting turnouts both for student and national elections are generally disproportionately low, while the number of students who neglect to undertake activities outside of their mandatory coursework remains disproportionately high. Thus rigorous standards must be upheld from the top down. And Sabbatical Officers and Class Reps demonstrating a more comprehensive understanding of their own constitution would be a step in the right direction.

Albert Einstein once stated: “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” While the internet grants us unlimited access to information, we all share a certain responsibility to use this information in the honest pursuit of the truth, to challenge the status quo, to question those in power and safeguard student integrity. It doesn’t give us the right to become complacent, as how rather than what you read is ultimately imperative.


Thanks for your support

Whether it was writing in letters of support or simply liking the Facebook status, The University Observer wishes to thank everyone for their solidarity in recent weeks

The paper has been faced with a number of challenges to overcome and I have been required to make a series of difficult decisions of late. Yet despite the daunting tests confronting the paper, the guidance, support and encouragement we’ve received has been nothing short of overwhelming. Not once did we ever feel alone during these ordeals, thanks to the generous offerings of help by too many people to mention.

Friends, colleagues, relatives and ex-editors have all played a significant part in helping to ensure the stability and continuing success of this paper was preserved. And most importantly, I would like to thank all the loyal readers for your consistent expressions of support throughout recent proceedings.

Over the course of my five years working for The University Observer, I have occasionally heard the quip that “it’s only a student paper”. Recent weeks have once again proven that it’s so much more than that.

Quotes of the fortnight

[Cheating] is indefensible and it’s a bit like trying to defend somebody who put their hands up and said ‘yeah, I killed ten people’.

SU education officer James Williamson offers a unique analogy for students who cheat.

If you left a stack of exam notes for the wrong subject hidden…[so] you could just wander in, go to that particular stall, pick them (exam notes) out, have a quick read, flush them down the toilet and come back outside.

A UCD invigilator provides a hypothetical scenario outlining the lengths which students will go to in order to get away with cheating.

UCD claim in the press that they’re this organisation who are bridging gaps between Ireland and China. To turn around and do something like to this to the tune of €24,000 a year is actually just mean.

 Senior lecturer in Medicine Dr Jack Lambert expresses his outrage at UCD’s decision to discontinue their policy of allowing Chinese Language students to use classrooms in the Quinn School free of charge.