Tens of thousands of cases of “academic misconduct” have been caught in the last three years across British universities.
The cases include misdemeanours such as bringing mobile phones into exams, using concealed notes, paying external firms to write essays, plagiarism from internet sources and copying coursework from peers.
16,000 cases were recorded in the past year alone, as it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with advances in technology which allow plagiarism to happen.
University chiefs blamed the cheating on the country’s financial crisis, saying that the pressure was mounting on students to secure the very best grades, and they would go to any lengths to gain solid job prospects.
Experts claimed New Labour’s policy of increasing access to higher education had left thousands of young people starting university without all the practical and intellectual skills required.
Ministers have been advised to step in to help universities defend standards against increasingly sophisticated methods, particularly those agencies that produce customised essays for students, often for very large fees.
Greenwich University, with more than 900 cases, was the worst in the country, but 12 others reported more than one case of cheating every day. London Metropolitan, Sheffield Hallam, Leeds Metropolitan and Wolverhampton University also fared badly.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said politicians had to share the blame for the rising tide of cheating. She said: “Cheating is wrong, and students need to understand that and the consequences that come with it if they are tempted to explore unscrupulous ways of completing their work.
“However, successive governments are also partly to blame. Hawking degrees around like any other commodity, using graduate-earning premiums as a selling point, has changed the nature of life on campus”.