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Watch out for impersonators in exams, universities told

Image: bibiphoto, via Shutterstock.com

Social media study sheds light on scale of ‘contract cheating’

Universities have been told to tighten up their security after researchers discovered examples of students openly soliciting for impersonators to take exams for them.

Alexander Amigud from the Center for the Study of Social Processes in Toronto, Canada, and Thomas Lancaster from Imperial College London scoured more than 1,500 tweets from students asking for someone to carry out their work in exchange for cash.

Most requests focused on essays or other written assignments—with an average cost of $33.32 per 1,000 words—but a small number of students were asking for people to sit their exams.

Speaking to Research Professional News, Lancaster—whose main research interest is contract cheating and academic integrity—said universities must tackle the problem.

“Exam impersonation is nowhere near as big a problem as contract cheating as a whole because it’s harder to get away with, but there are situations where invigilators would not necessarily recognise someone in their exam room who should not be there,” he said. “It’s something we need to do more about as a sector, just being sure that the right people are taking exams.”

In a paper detailing their study, the researchers report that mathematics modules caused the most students to farm out their work, followed by English and history.

Lancaster said lecturers could try to combat cheating by setting tasks within the context of the university or local area, and by redesigning “bread and butter-type assignments” to make them more unique.

“Contract cheating is so much more blatant now and students are willing to go out there and make the requests,” he said. “In terms of assessment design, we need to be working on things that can’t easily be sent to a third party on the other side of the world with no particular knowledge of a course that a student is studying.”

The researchers only studied requests for cheating services made in dollars, but Lancaster said the study was definitely applicable to the UK.

“I think there is still a message of communication in getting the idea out to lecturers that students are outsourcing their assignments and contract cheating does happen,” he said.