Fake diplomas, forged term papers and other methods of falsification emerging in colleges and universities will have far-reaching negative effects, according to a report based in Shanxi Province.
Exams, term papers and employment, long considered bastions of college life, are key methods used to reflect and testify to the effectiveness of higher education. But, with the proliferation of cheating techniques, these bastions are turning into a "broad road".
While university and college authorities attempt to strictly enforce examination protocols, there are still many students who try to cheat the system. According to one student at a university in Shanxi, practicing fraud has become a trend, with only a few students living "on their own labor". Most other students cope with the strain of exams by cheating.
One popular cheating method is to go into an exam with a palm-sized sheet of paper filled with "key points" from lectures and answers from textbooks. More important exams, like the PETS (Public English Test System) for post-graduate level entrance, require more advanced cheating techniques. Equipped with beepers or mobile phones attached to hidden earphones, students pair up with more qualified peers who complete the exam early and then send answers from the outside, through phone or beeper messages.
Apart from exams, cheating also occurs in term papers and design work. Some college professors acknowledge seeing entire essays and articles copied off the Internet or from research journals. Cheating students help each other by marking "copied" on published papers that they have already used.
A third-year female student in an economics department at one university admits that because of the lack of periodicals in their library, her classmates will even go "for help" to other libraries at nearby Universities. And, according to a professor at a technology institute, for design assignments where the results and calculations do not vary, out of every 10 students, only one or two will take the time to do the work on their own; the rest just copy.
As the competition for good job requiring special certificates and university diplomas increases, so does the market for forged documents. In a print shop close to one technology institute in Shanxi, samples of different award certificates replete with genuine-looking covers and special paper, are readily available for perusal.
The shop owner explains how his shop can "give out an award" to a student. The store keeps original copies of more than ten different genuine certificates on a computer. When a student needs one, the employees just scan the original certificate, change the name on the computer, print it out and sell it to the student.
One female employee says more computer competent students will transfer a scanned certificate onto their own disks and make the changes by themselves. Arts students, she says, are clumsier, and so can only muddle through the simplest duplication on their own.
Upon entering university, previously hard working students quickly forget the advice of college veterans to, "keep down to earth, study hard, don't horse around and cheat."
According to an informal survey, there are 13 twenty-four hour Internet bars and two video parlors in the immediate vicinity of Shanxi University. These businesses do their best to keep their services up-to-date, attracting evermore entertainment-hungry, cyber-addicted college students. After long hours of such fun, who can help but skip school or sleep in class?
Apart from the temptations of the cyber-world, the search for love keeps students busy as well. No matter what the demands of studying may be, young couples find ample time to roam "among the flowers and under the moon.” And others just spend their class time reading novels or writing letters. With their study time so scattered, it is not hard to see why the lure of cheating and forging is becoming stronger.
Some educators say a bad social environment is not the only cause of cheating. They put the blame on a bad academic atmosphere. Underpaid college instructors often pad their salaries by taking on extra lecturing or pursuing business opportunities in fields such as insurance. In class, they either only repeat what is in the books, or talk randomly. Other teachers are too busy preparing their own Master's or Doctoral examinations to bother much about teaching.
As for maintaining strict measures against cheating students, some professors would rather turn a blind eye. One teacher affiliated with the Commission of Teaching Direction in Shanxi, tells of a case last year in which a female student held up her exam paper so that the student sitting behind her could copy. The supervisor in charge of the examination let this conduct pass. When asked about it by the commission, he responded that graduating students were too busy to prepare for their exams. He asked the Commission to "please give the wrongdoer a way out".
In another case, involving student cheaters in a music department, the management of the institution strove to cover up the incident, furious with the teachers of the Commission for exposing them.
Many professors regard outdated university management as a chief cause of increased cheating. They point out that management rules are becoming a bottleneck for much needed changes.
According to regulations, students have to score their professors' performance at the end of the school term. Professors who score poorly may have their bonus withheld. This system not only encourages students who cheat, but professors who are reluctant to offend them, often let fake papers and copied exams pass through. At one university, a professor who often makes students re-write papers that are forged, has become persona non grata in his classes. Students call him "Iron face".
The workload of teachers also becomes a factor. Some Shanxi universities demand that teachers complete over 280 class hours, including lectures, experiments, practicals and term paper advising. With the heavy workload, many teachers and tutors don't want to "waste time" verifying the sources of work handed in by students.
No one would disagree that the rampant cheating and falsification by students is a problem. The solution? Some people would say university managers should take the lead in launching new testing and supervising measures, in hiring more qualified teachers and reducing their workload constraints.
(人民网[People.com.cn], translated by Liliangdu for china.org.cn, June 3, 2002)