DURBAN - THE Council on Higher Education (CHE) is conducting institutional audits at universities.
This comes after a survey at tertiary institutions about perspectives on remote learning and teaching raised concerns about cheating.
Ntokozo Bhengu, CHE communications and stakeholders relations manager, said: “The current round of institutional audits initiated by the CHE will, amongst other things, delve into the assessment policies and practices of institutions, and into how institutions maintained the quality assurance mechanisms necessary to preserve the integrity of assessment.”
The survey was conducted by the CHE, Universities South Africa and the University of the Free State and attracted respondents from 24 public universities. It asked lecturers about their experiences in a range of matters relating to remote teaching and learning. Covid-19 disrupted contact learning and examinations and universities have adopted remote teaching and learning practices.
The survey said “three-quarters (73%) of respondents are concerned about academic dishonesty in online assessments and two-thirds (67%) are concerned about students’ ethical engagement with academic materials”.
Bhengu said that they had noted an increase in cheating cases.
“The experience has been varied across the system, ranging from institutions that have reported no or minimal instances, to institutions that have indicated some instances and others which have indicated a significant increase in the number of instances,” Bhengu said.
“One of the most alarming findings in this study concerns the integrity of academic assessments as a result of cheating, and illicit collaborations that have overwhelmed student disciplinary structures at institutions.”
Asked about cheating cases, Alan Khan, senior director of corporate affairs at the Durban University of Technology, said the institution had noted cases of student cheating, which were being dealt with by the student disciplinary tribunal. “To date (since 2020), there were approximately 20 cases of cheating during online tests which have been reported to us by the academic departments.”
Normah Zondo, executive director for corporate relations at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said the university had implemented strict monitoring guidelines since online teaching was introduced in 2020.
“The university used multiple means of monitoring during assessments. Strict time limits were applied to ensure the integrity of the assessment. Academics are also being creative when setting exams, using the open book method that tests the application of knowledge. They also request students to keep cameras on during the assessments,” Zondo said.
“Turnitin (plagiarism detection service) has been commonly used to check on the similarity of work, and certain additional features of Turnitin have been enabled to detect plagiarism. Academics have also been able to use Grammarly and other freeware to detect similarities. Generally, our academics are able to determine cheating. Advanced assessment proctoring will significantly assist in curbing cheating and advance ethical learning. The university is in the process of looking into further improving its monitoring programmes.
“The university is dealing, via internal disciplinary means, with a small number of cases at the moment and will continue to pursue any allegation of cheating brought to its attention. Sanctions for cheating range from severe warnings to the cancellation of marks for the assessment and exclusion for a defined period, depending on circumstances.”
Bhengu said that Covid-19 had sharply highlighted the inequality divide in higher education.
“Universities have implemented a range of support measures, including making devices available to students, providing data, and through implementing multimodal learning and teaching strategies that are responsive to the needs of particular groups of students. Most universities have returned their most vulnerable students to campus and to residences first.”