Universities across Sydney are cracking down on cheating in tertiary assessment tasks, after Fairfax Media revealed chronic misconduct across the sector.
The University of Sydney, University of Technology and the University of NSW have all implemented strict new policies on assessments, which include the reintroduction of closed-book exams, question and answer sessions after assessments, a shift away from take-home assignments and a ban on wristwatches in exams.
The clampdown comes after a Fairfax Media investigation in 2014 revealed up to 1000 students from 16 universities had hired the Sydney-based MyMaster company to ghost-write their assignments and sit online tests.
In the wake of the investigation two university students were expelled and a further 70 faced severe penalties, with four having their degrees revoked from NSW's most prestigious universities after being identified in connection with the online essay writing company.
The deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Technology, Shirley Alexander, said universities had become much more aware of cheating since the scandal.
"Taxpayers spend a lot of money on university education," Professor Alexander said. "It is absolutely incumbent on us that when we put a stamp on their graduation certificate that says this person has met the requirements of the degree, that they actually have."
Professor Alexander said UTS had moved more in the direction of open-book exams in order to minimise cheating by asking students to come up with creative rather than rote-learned answers.
"We are trying to prepare people to enter the real world of work," she said. "The assessments are much harder to design but people can't pass just by copying. It is much harder to cheat in that way."
She said students would be asked random questions by an academic after completing take-home assessments to ensure they understood the content before being able to pass.
On Monday, the NSW government's Legal Profession Admissions Board advised students that it would be instituting a new closed-book exam policy and would be banning the publication of past exam papers and the use of wristwatches. Law exams have traditionally been open book, with students required to adapt large swathes of information to questions.
"The introduction of the closed-book exam policy reflects the need for increased attention to maintaining the integrity of the Board's exams process," the board wrote in a letter to students. "[This is] particularly as a result of recent media reporting of widespread cheating in tertiary assessment tasks, and the University of Sydney's subsequent report into the prevention and detection of academic misconduct".
The board added that wristwatches of any kind were no longer permitted to be worn or placed on the desk during an exam. "This is because many smartwatches now look similar to standard wristwatches." Macquarie University has instituted a similar ban.
On Monday, the University of Sydney also updated its academic honesty policy to prevent students from submitting ghost-written assessments by instituting oral presentations, periodic assessment of drafts and implementing supervised examinations with a minimum pass mark, the policy states
UNSW has also increased its reliance on supervised exams. Deputy vice-chancellor Merlin Crossley said the university had a multi-pronged approach to plagiarism, including the use of online detection tools such as Turnitin.
"Supervised exams continue to be a critical element of our assessment mix and over the last three years there has been an increase in the use of exams by around 5 per cent each year," he said.
Western Sydney University's deputy vice-chancellor, Denise Kirkpatrick, said the Parramatta institution was currently conducting an extensive review of its assessment procedures.
"New technologies and contemporary attitudes continue to present challenges to educational organisations that seek to preserve the quality and integrity of learning," she said.