Sweden battles rise in university cheating

With reports of cheating and plagiarism at Swedish universities on the rise, The Local's Geoff Mortimore looks at how big the problem really is and what's being done to address it.

Sweden battles rise in university cheating

The fact that the Swedish government has waded into the debate on the rising problem of cheating at the country’s higher education establishments shows just how serious the situation has become and the determination of the authorities to stop it, despite a feeling in some quarters that it will always be a losing battle.

A series of recent investigations reveals a growing problem which is showing few signs of abating, and, with technology getting ever more accessible, it seems more students than ever are prepared to take the risk of getting caught.

“It is is clearly becoming more widespread, which is why the government has tasked us with looking into ways of treating the problems,” Christian Sjöstrand, a lawyer at the National Agency for Higher Education (Högskoleverket), tells The Local.

He says that the growing awareness of the problem has spurred all sides into action.

“At the moment though, it is still up to each individual school or university how they deal with it. We are currently in the process of collating all the information to see how we can be of help and support.”

Recent statistics on cheating make grim reading for the education authorities.

The number of students suspended from Sweden’s colleges and universities went up by nearly 50 percent in 2010 compared to the year before, with a total of 506 students forced to leave Sweden’s 26 largest institutions of higher education last year, according to a review of statistics by the TT news agency.

In the wake of the latest findings, education minister Jan Björklund suggested that Swedish college and universities need to tighten up their approach to cheating and review the penalties handed out to those caught.

All sides seem to agree on two things. Technology is a major contributor on both sides of the debate, and the problem is getting worse, especially in the case of plagiarism.

Of the 750 students who were caught last year, 591 were suspended and 159 were given warnings and of that number, plagiarism accounted for 343 of the suspensions.

Pontus Kyrk, who put the report together for the National Agency for Higher Education, says the problem should not however, be blown out of proportion.

”Although the numbers have risen, it is still a very small percentage of the student population. There are certainly many more ways of uncovering this kind of activity and we are busy looking into it,” he explains

With government having taken notice, however, questions are also being asked about whether the current system does enough to deter students from being dishonest.

Kyrk added that he personally feels that the current punishments are not harsh enough and are really no deterrent at all.

Currently each university or college has a disciplinary board with the mandate to warn or in severe cases suspend students caught cheating.

Suspensions can be up to six months long and can mean the students miss out on taking exams. They are also forced to forgo any grants they may have received for the term of the suspension.

Like many others, Sjöstrand sees the internet and technology as both a cause and a cure to the problem.

”Of course the internet is a major problem in that people have such more access to texts. But on the other hand it can be a help to those looking to stop it too, as it gives us the same access and the capability to compare texts and uncover cheating,” he explains.

Keeping up with the latest technology is key to the clampdown at many universities.

Authorities at Stockholm University say they are using a sophisticated software system to check all material handed in for exams, while at other schools, stringent checks are in place to catch wrongdoers.

Such cheating-detection software is increasingly being seen as the authorities’ best weapon.

Another institution taking a tough stance is Södertörn University in Stockholm, which is one of many looking into introducing a mandatory use of web tools to track cheating and plagiarism.

”The students belong to a generation that learned how to retrieve information from the internet and we need to talk more with them about where the line is between borrowing an idea and copying it,” Södertörn head Moira von Wright recently told TT.

The Aftonbladet newspaper recently published a report highlighting which Swedish universities seemed to be doing the best to keep academic dishonesty in check, with Gothenburg University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) topping the list.

”We try to keep updated and aware of what kind of research and actions others are taking, as we know there are many initiatives in other schools that are worth following,” says SLU lawyer Lennart Jonsson.

“We try to regularly inform our students about the rules regarding cheating and plagiarism so they are continually aware that we are looking at it.”

However, like others, Jonsson concedes that statistics do not always provide all the answers.

“It is hard to explain why we are so high, but we have always performed well in these lists,” he admits.

“There are many reasons, from the students themselves, our measures to stop it and also how each individual teacher and school reports the issues when they arise. Sweden is certainly not the only country experiencing such a situation though.”

Meanwhile the next official report on cheating at Swedish universities is set to be released at the end of September, giving students and educators alike a new chance to reflect on whether the Sweden has managed to bring the problem under control.

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Swedish opposition proposes ‘rapid tests for ADHD’ to cut gang crime

The Moderate Party in Stockholm has called for children in so called "vulnerable areas" to be given rapid tests for ADHD to increase treatment and cut gang crime.

Swedish opposition proposes 'rapid tests for ADHD' to cut gang crime

In a press release, the party proposed that treating more children in troubled city areas would help prevent gang crime, given that “people with ADHD diagnoses are “significantly over-represented in the country’s jails”. 

The idea is that children in so-called “vulnerable areas”, which in Sweden normally have a high majority of first and second-generation generation immigrants, will be given “simpler, voluntary tests”, which would screen for ADHD, with those suspected of having the neuropsychiatric disorder then put forward for proper evaluations to be given by a child psychiatrist. 

“The quicker you can put in place measures, the better the outcomes,” says Irene Svenonius, the party’s leader in the municipality, of ADHD treatment, claiming that children in Sweden with an immigrant background were less likely to be medicated for ADHD than other children in Sweden. 

In the press release, the party said that there were “significant differences in the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD within Stockholm country”, with Swedish-born children receiving diagnosis and treatment to a higher extent, and with ADHD “with the greatest probability” underdiagnosed in vulnerable areas. 

At a press conference, the party’s justice spokesman Johan Forsell, said that identifying children with ADHD in this areas would help fight gang crime. 

“We need to find these children, and that is going to help prevent crime,” he said. 

Sweden’s climate minister Annika Strandhäll accused the Moderates of wanting to “medicate away criminality”. 

Lotta Häyrynen, editor of the trade union-backed comment site Nya Mitten, pointed out that the Moderates’s claim to want to help children with neuropsychiatric diagnoses in vulnerable areas would be more credible if they had not closed down seven child and youth psychiatry units. 

The Moderate Party MP and debater Hanif Bali complained about the opposition from left-wing commentators and politicians.

“My spontaneous guess would have been that the Left would have thought it was enormously unjust that three times so many immigrant children are not getting a diagnosis or treatment compared to pure-Swedish children,” he said. “Their hate for the Right is stronger than their care for the children. 

Swedish vocab: brottsförebyggande – preventative of crime