students cheating
Many are turning to technology to help them cheat during exams. Source: Shutterstock/Syda Productions

More students in the UK are using technology to cheat, according to data released to The Guardianand experts say the actual figures are likely higher, given how easy it is to hide some of the gadgets used.

Cheating using tech devices jumped 42 percent over the last four years, the report said, citing the data obtained through freedom of information requests. Offenders used everything from mobile phones, smart watches and hidden earpieces to outsmart invigilators during exams – and it is believed many got away with it.

“These figures are only going to show what’s been detected. Students who cheat well won’t always get caught, especially now there’s so much mini-tech out there that are hard to spot,” said Thomas Lancaster, an associate dean at Staffordshire University and one of the UK’s leading experts on cheating.

Between 2012 and 2016, the number of such cases grew from 148 to 210. Those caught cheating last year had used electronic devices, though the universities were unable to specify which devices were used. For the schools that knew, most said the cheaters used mobile phones.

Queen Mary University of London recorded among the greatest number of offenders – two-thirds of the 54 cheating cases there were committed via technology. Others like University of Surrey had 12 such cases out of their 19 cheating incidents, while at Newcastle University, almost half (43 percent) of the 91 reported cases involved technology.

Suppliers of these devices say students buy from them because they see no point in how the education system, especially exams, are structured these days.

“If you navigate our site, you’ll see our target audience is mainly – if not entirely – students. Most of them are sick and tired of the educational system. They are vivid people who want to learn, but they see no point in vomiting the subject up during the exam,” said one Guillermo from an online store called Monorean company, which sells invisible earpieces.

Invigilators and professors say they try to remove the devices students attempt to bring in with them into the exam halls, but there is only so much the rules and their checks can do.

“At a university where I worked, students were not allowed to have mobile phones on their person during exams. There were strict rules around this, but we couldn’t bodily search them,” a professor who requested anonymity said.

“But periodically, students would take toilet breaks and disappear for some time into a cubicle. When they got back to their seat, they would have a second wind and write frantically. I was always concerned they were using their toilet visit to look up answers on a hidden device and message their contacts outside,”

An unnamed invigilator added, “Students now have grown up with that tech, they are comfortable with it. Thus, it makes sense if they are going to cheat, this is possibly the easiest way.”

The solution seems to lie in how the exams are set and an update of the rules – make it harder and more punishing for students to cheat.

Irene Glendinning, academic manager for student experience at Coventry University, agreed in exams where it is “just about repeating what you’ve been told”, there will be “ways of cheating”.

But cheating expert Lancaster says: “Students should be aware cheaters do get caught and the penalties are severe. In some cases, it includes expulsion. Leaving university without a degree and owing substantial amounts in fees just isn’t worth the risk.”

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