x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Students cheated out of an education

A trend of cheating at the nation's universities points requires a cultural shift in education.

In April 2009, Abu Dhabi University launched a campaign focused on academic integrity aimed at tackling the cheating culture that it suspected was creeping into the higher-education system. A year and a half later, the university reported that it had identified 34 clear cases of wrongdoing, and the offending students were suspended.

Today, almost three years since the first project, the lesson apparently needs to be reiterated. Cheating, as far as many students are concerned, is a risk still worth taking.

As The National reported yesterday, universities across the Emirates have increased measures to prevent cheating, but an attitude of "everybody's at it" persists among many students.

Some universities have installed surveillance cameras in their examination halls, with the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research decreeing that this will become mandatory for all federal institutions. This is a good start and has proven to significantly reduce the instances of cheating.

But breaking the rules takes many shapes: websites openly offer essay-writing services, which many students can afford and are more than happy to purchase. Worse, it seems to be a largely guilt-free trend with officials accusing students, and even teachers, of generally being tolerant of what amounts to plagiarism.

Worryingly, education officials believe that cheating is seeping into the system as early as kindergarten level. Pupils who start that early are charting a course not just of ignorance, but of duplicity as well. Clearly a cultural shift is needed.

Eliminating cheating is no easy task. To be sure, ultimate responsibility lies, as ever, with the parents who need to encourage ethical behaviour. Better vigilance and stricter punishments implemented as deterrents in the schools should be a last resort.

One solution is the step that universities like Abu Dhabi University and the American University in the Emirates have taken. Perhaps introducing a student honour code would help matters as well.

At every level, ethics have to be part of the education. The message is simple: when it comes to cheating, students cheat themselves.