Cheating has been ingrained in the education culture from the start, say universities.
Pupils have been cheating 'since kindergarten'
DUBAI // As universities instal surveillance cameras to try to combat cheating, websites are still offering essay-writing services that allow students to hand in perfect work with no effort.
Cheating is a well-known and pervasive problem. Many educators complain that they face a total lack of understanding from many students - and even some teachers - that there is anything wrong in submitting work that is not their own.
Even among students who realise it is not acceptable, an "everybody's at it" attitude persists.
Last year, the American University in the Emirates (AUE) became the first to install cameras in corridors, classes and exam halls, although the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research announced in November that it would soon do the same in all federal universities.
AUE believes the move has already cut cheating by three-quarters. "We haven't stopped them, no," admits its president, Prof Muthanna Razzaq, "but this semester there have been 120 cases ... out of nearly 3,000 students. In the beginning, this was 100 per cent."
The university's provost, Prof Nabeel Jurdi, says cheating is ingrained in the education culture "from way down".
Prof Razzaq adds: "I can't change it. There are some students who have been doing this since KG2 [age 5-6]. For exams I'm even cutting off mobile phone and wireless signals."
Meanwhile, a host of websites offer professional, degree-level essay writing services, boasting that they can beat any anti-plagiarism system.
One says: "Our experienced PhD and Master level writers are able to produce custom essays on all Business related topics according to the requirements and format you need.
"All papers ordered from us are completely authentic. Our custom essays are written solely for you."
In October, one leaflet from UAE Essays was left on all the cars in the male campus of Zayed University, offering services from essay writing to personal statements and PowerPoint presentations.
It read: "We do them all for any course and any major that you are enrolled in."
One Zayed University student whose friends have used the service, says: "It has become a business. There are plenty of students who can easily afford Dh500-Dh1,000 for a paper if it means good grades. I don't see the point in being here if I'm not going to achieve it for myself though."
Dr Kenneth Wilson, campus head of Zayed University, says: "This is a challenge for everybody, especially in the digital age. We, like every university in the world, are grappling with this."
He says there have been cases of students being caught using professional writing services. "The system comes down very hard on them and it can lead to suspension from the university."
At UAE University, one science student says using an essay-writing service is seen merely as seeking help, not cheating.
"We have so much to do and we need help," she says. "We approach these people because it may just be something small, like checking grammar, but there is a lot of pressure."
One business student at Al Ain Women's College admits she had used an online service because her workload was too high.
"It's too much," she says. "There are daily and weekly reports, so many assignments, it's hard to cope. I have even more work to do than my friends at UAEU. It's worse for the men as many of them have jobs too."
Universities are doing what they can to educate their students about the ethics of plagiarism. But, says Dr Wilson, "it's hard for them to get their head around in the beginning".
In December 2010, 34 students were expelled from Abu Dhabi University for cheating. It has been a wake-up call to students.
Fatima Abdul-Kader, 19, a finance student, says: "The university has made students more aware of the policy on cheating. Some people are completely new to the concept of plagiarism."
Raed Al Mesbahi, 21, adds that the expulsions had helped raise academic standards. "The lecturers are being more strict now."