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Harvard University incident serves a grim reminder of the growing menace of cheating in India

With students getting increasing access to technology and Indian universities introducing more writing assignments at higher education level to be completed at home, there is greater threat than ever of plagiarism.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: Feb 08, 2013, 01.13 PM IST
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With students getting increasing access to technology and Indian universities introducing more writing assignments at higher education level to be completed at home, there is greater threat than ever of plagiarism.
With students getting increasing access to technology and Indian universities introducing more writing assignments at higher education level to be completed at home, there is greater threat than ever of plagiarism.
BANGALORE: Harvard University may have made news for a seemingly wrong reason when its administration recently reported a mass cheating scandal, but to its Indian counterparts the incident served as a grim reminder of a growing menace at home.

Officials at universities across the country admit that cheating is rampant during entrance exams for medical and engineering courses and that even the elite institutions need to devise ever newer means to check the culprits.

With students getting increasing access to technology and Indian universities introducing more writing assignments at higher education level to be completed at home, there is greater threat than ever of plagiarism. Indian institutions are, however, increasingly addressing this challenge, officials say, adding that hundreds of students are debarred from the entrance tests or term papers for using unethical means to scrape through.

“Cheating is quite rampant in medical tests and every year 5-20 cases are reported just in Karnataka. There would be thousands across India and cases of cheating in nursing examinations are even higher than in medical,” said Chikkananjappa, president of Karnataka Medical Council and syndicate member of Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences. On Tuesday, he said, four second-year students were caught cheating by using Bluetooth in a college at Gulbarga in Karnataka.

“Cheating is not as rampant abroad as in India,” said computer security consultant Ankit Fadia, who wrote a book on ethical hacking when he was just 15. “In colleges like Stanford, there are never any invigilators and for any doubt one can ask the professor who will be standing outside,” said Fadia, who did a bachelor’s programme at Stanford. Students are deterred from cheating at US universities because of the superior technology used to detect any malpractice, he said, explaining that some of these include software that can spot whether a portion of the assignment has been copied from somewhere else. “The college would also keep assignments and papers submitted by seniors so that any similarity with those given by the present batch can be detected,” he said.

Sankarshan Basu, professor of finance and control at Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore, said the B-school made rules against unethical practices stricter last year, marking students fail in the entire subject instead of giving them zero score on a particular test. “We realised that a zero in one test may not deter them like failing the entire subject would,” Basu said. Further, in cases where assignments done by a group show sign of malpractice, then the entire group fails in the subject.

“Cheating was always there among students but now with advanced technology the temptation to cheat is even more,” said SK Gupta, professor in chemical engineering department and dean of student affairs at IIT Delhi, “Not only do failing students try to cheat to pass, even good students cheat to compete and get better grade. In a year, we have about four-five reported cases of cheating that are taken up with the institute’s disciplinary committee.”

Last year, when a student from IIT Delhi’s physics lab course was caught carrying a mobile phone, in which he had stored data and carried it to examination hall, he was given W (withdrawal) grade in all courses in the semester and failed in that semester.

 
Gupta said that while there are numerous instances of students caught cheating, such cases are mostly sorted out within the examination hall by the teachers or invigilators imposing a penalty in terms of negative marking or some such punishment. The punishment depends on the severity of the case and can lead to expulsion for a period of six months to two years, he said.

“As you go higher up the ladder in terms of degrees, one is given more assignments and take-home projects and hence there is scope of more element of cheating,” said Prof Suneet Tuli, dean, industrial research and development at IIT Delhi. “At higher level, it takes place in research papers. There are software that can automatically scan and bring out the paragraphs or portions that have been taken out of somewhere. As a reviewer, we can have access to such tools.”

IIT Bombay recently appointed a committee to enforce ethical conduct among students. “It is more of an internal housekeeping exercise to put forward some (ethical) norms and reinforce certain others,” said Narayan Rangaraj, professor of industrial engineering and operations research programme. The institute also has software and tools to keep checks on content that is being evaluated for possible copying and plagiarism.

Experts say cheating stems from a deeper problem. “There is a general casualness about education and it is in our DNA to be result oriented and not look at the process,” said Gouri Dange, Punebased psychologist and family counsellor. Recounting instances of how worried parents often ask her to help their child with their statements of purpose for colleges, she said, “Often students who have scaled on their parents back forever grapple when they are out on their own.”

Prof Roshan L Raina, dean for planning and development at IIM Lucknow, has found out a way to tackle the issue by stressing that there are no right or wrong answers to the assignments he gives out. “Explaining this way helps develop a chord with students and works better than penalising them. Cheating home assignments, as it happened at Harvard, raises questions on ethics and values,” he said. Like many other institutes, IIM Lucknow sets up committees when each case is reported and although it does not impose blanket bans it has barred students from the term or placements for using unethical means.

Debarring a student from placement at management schools is sure way to instill fear, said Prof Chowdari Prasad, dean (branding & promotions) at the Manipal based TA Pai Management Institute.

The college had to deal with such a case last in 2011. “Students come for management programmes keeping placements to dream companies in mind and if debarred from that, their educational loans and two years in college are wasted,” said Prasad.

(Additional reporting by Rica Bhattacharyya in Mumbai)
(Catch all the Business News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on The Economic Times.)

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