Cheating confirms the lowering of standards, already explained by NHSreality. Exams for medics should never be continuous assessment but show they can think on their feet..
Thousands of student nurses in Britain have been disciplined for cheating amid fears of an epidemic in online plagiarism that puts patients at risk, The Times can reveal.
Universities have punished at least 1,706 nursing students in the past three academic years for offences including plagiarism, collusion and impersonating other students.
Experts fear that the figure may be the tip of the iceberg because it is feared that thousands more students are using websites selling bespoke essays, which are much harder for plagiarism software to detect.
Dr Thomas Lancaster, a plagiarism expert, said that “high hundreds or low thousands of nursing essays are bought every year in the UK”. He warned that cheating in nursing courses could have “potentially dangerous and fatal consequences” if nurses did not understand how to take notes correctly or read doctors’ notes.
The Times has uncovered a company in Pakistan called Nexus which runs a series of websites that target nursing students as potential customers.
A sales representative for one of the company’s websites, which charges £195 for a “first-class” standard essay, boasted to a reporter posing as a potential customer that the company had 100 in-house writers including “retired professors from UK colleges”.
In fact Nexus appears to rely on more than 40 young male and female “academic writers” working around the clock in Karachi to produce the work.
Nursing coursework is also available for as little as 99p on websites such as eBay and Gumtree.
Data obtained from 61 British universities under the Freedom of Information Act suggests that nurses are disproportionately more likely to cheat than other students.
Almost half of all students disciplined at the University of Dundee for cheating between 2010 and 2013 were nurses. Some 155 student nurses were found out compared with 17 medical students and seven would-be lawyers.
Professor Margaret Smith, dean of the school of nursing and health sciences at the University of Dundee insisted that its anti-plagiarism measures were among the most robust of any UK university.
At the University of Brighton 47 “major” cases of cheating and 79 minor cases were identified between 2010 and 2013. In 2012 nurses cheated more than any other faculty. A spokesman for the university said that it had 6,245 nursing students over three years and “the numbers [of cheats] are very small in comparison to the number of students”.
Almost 300 nursing students were caught cheating at Edinburgh Napier University, the highest number of any university surveyed. Fewer than five were referred for investigation by fitness-to-practise panels.
A spokesman for Edinburgh Napier said that the university had more nursing students than any other provider in Britain. “Often plagiarism owes much more to naivety than dishonesty and so we focus on educating students on good practice in their written work,” he said.
At Cardiff University the number of nurses caught cheating rose by more than 500 per cent between 2012, when 12 students were disciplined, and 2014, when 77 were caught.
Twenty-eight universities providing nursing qualifications did not respond to the FoI requests.
Nursing students are immune from investigation by the Nursing and Midwifery Council until they are qualified. The regulator relies on the universities to enforce good conduct but very few students are expelled for cheating. At least five registered nurses studying for professional qualifications have been referred to the council by universities.
A spokesman for the council said: “There is no place for cheats in nursing or midwifery. It is the responsibility of academic institutions to ensure individuals have legitimately passed all parts of their course before they are awarded a qualification and can apply for registration.”
The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education is the quango in charge of upholding university standards. It has launched an investigation into whether universities need to mete out tougher punishments for plagiarism and develop new tools to catch cheats using essay sites.
Dr Lancaster, who has studied contract cheating for a decade, said: “We know the whole essay marking business is worth millions of pounds a year in the UK,” he said. “We expect nurses to have our health in mind, to be able to correctly dispense the right amount of drugs, to know what to do in different situations.”
The NMC disciplined a nurse last December in what is believed to be the first case to explicitly mention a post-graduate student cheating by purchasing an essay online.
Bernadette Tolentino-Dean, who worked at a nursing home in Sussex, admitted that she had bought an essay from a website called Studymode and submitted it as part of a six-month professional development mentoring module at the University of Surrey in January 2014.
She said that she had felt under pressure to complete the course and bought it so that she did not have to do the work herself.
Mrs Tolentino-Dean was given a six-month suspension for serious professional misconduct and dishonest behaviour.
The NMC has also disciplined at least 20 other registered nurses for offences involving plagiarism. These typically involved copying another student’s work or submitting an essay that had previously been handed in on another course and was detected by plagiarism software.
Writers paid £324 a month
Although websites such as nursingessay.co.uk present themselves as British-based businesses anxious to provide students with “study aids”, an investigation found that dozens are run from Pakistan by two entrepreneurs who employ local writers on 12-hour shifts.
Anwar Haider and Moez Mujtaba set up Nexus Corporation eight years ago in Karachi. It now controls at least ten essay sites including nursingessay. co.uk and employs more than 40 people.
Another Karachi company called Academic Inside controls a spate of similar websites including nursingessay helptree.co.uk. Its sales staff claim that it is based in Manchester and has “a team of experienced masters and PhD writers available from the area of nursing”.
Workers are employed on salaries of 45,000 rupees (£324) a month to work in two shifts — from 9am to 6pm, and a night shift from 6pm to 3am. Required skills include “excellent English writing skills in terms of language”. To mask its Pakistani origins, Nexus set up a British company called Nexuscorp Ltd with an address in a Folkestone business park.
When a reporter asked “Dan” where nursingessay.co.uk was based, he insisted Nexus was a British company and ended the conversation when pushed. A woman who answered the phone number of the Folkestone business park said that Nexus had never been based there.
Mr Haider, one of the founders, denied that his websites facilitate cheating. “We never promote students to use the services provided as their own,” he said.
We have over 100 writers, the salesman boasted. “Eighty per cent are retired professors from UK colleges. Your paper will be 100 per cent customised as per your instructions. It will be 100 per cent non-plagiarised as well.” Calling himself Dan, the salesman worked for one of a burgeoning number of websites selling bespoke essays to British students for up to £1,000 a time.
Unlike similar operations targeted at English or history graduates, nursingessay.co.uk is aimed at Britain’s 150,000 nursing students.
Speaking to a reporter posing as a student, Dan offered to produce a first-class nursing essay on “national and international health policies” for £195.
With worrying implications for public health, nursingessay.co.uk is only one of dozens of websites, Twitter accounts, Gumtree adverts and eBay postings selling nursing coursework to British students for as little as £1.99. One site alone contains a “research database” of more than 5,000 nursing essays. Many of the websites purport to be British-based but are run out of Pakistan by companies controlling dozens of “essay mill” websites. The sites, which offer free samples and different prices depending on what standard is required, advertise their services as “study aids”.
The dangers of nursing students who cheat are clear, experts say. “The purpose of a student doing an essay or undertaking learning is to gain knowledge to improve safety of patients,” Lynne Phair, a consultant nurse, said. “If someone cheats by buying an essay then patients can be at significant risk of harm because the nurses will have been passed as competent when they don’t have that knowledge. It can be very dangerous.”
The growing number of essay mills has caused huge concern among British universities. While plagiarism software such as Turnitin can identify students who re-use someone else’s work, it struggles to pick up original material written to order.
As one online seller of bespoke essays to nursing students advertised: “We help get your academic paper ready to submit — it’s not been copied and pasted and will sail through Turnitin with flying colours.”
Yet universities caught more than 1,700 nursing students cheating in the past three years, freedom of information requests by The Times show. At some universities nurses appear to cheat in disproportionate numbers. Almost half of all students disciplined at Dundee University for cheating between 2010 and 2013 were nurses. However, only a handful of students have been kicked out of their courses or referred to fitness-to-practise panels. The government has started an investigation.