Calls for 'airport-style' searches of students before exams following Telegraph investigation

Katie Morley
Exam cheating devices

Students should be subject to "intrusive" airport-style searches before sitting exams, MPs and university bosses have said, amid fears a growing number are using tiny in-ear devices to cheat the system.

It comes after official data revealed for the first time that "cheat tech" is on the rise, as hundreds of students have been caught with covert technological devices during tests.

Experts warn the figures are just the "tip of an iceberg" with the true number of exam cheats likely to be far higher, as they are "fiendishly difficult" to catch.

A Sunday Telegraph investigation has found high-tech ear pieces available for UK students to buy on Amazon and eBay, under listings which include the words "exam cheat".

Cheating devices are available to buy online, fueling fears that growing number of students are turning to the products

Following the discovery eBay has said it is now in the process of withdrawing the listings.  Amazon confirmed it was aware it had been selling the devices, but refused to say whether it would remove the products.

Electronic cheating devices range in price from under £50 to around £350 for highly sophisticated models.

The latest versions come with a speaker which is smaller than a grain of rice and sits in the ear, while wirelessly connecting to a device, such as a phone, which can play audio notes.

Wires and sensors are used connect the tiny speaker to a student's feet, allowing them to use subtle toe movements to fast forward and rewind recordings.

Last night Neil Carmichael, chairman of the Education Select Committee called on the Government to introduce "random spot checks" and counter technology measures to combat the cheat tech trend.

Are universities facing a cheating epidemic?

He told this newspaper: "It's frightening, but I'm not sure dealing with one or two particular outlets will solve this issue. We need a comprehensive solution, and I would say we should be thinking about counter technology, and random spot checks.

"This trend threatens to undermine our exam system if it's allowed to go unchecked and I think the Government need to be acting on this, because we've seen, increasingly, that the scale of cheating is growing.

Professor Julia Black, acting director at the London School of Economics, said it was "fiendishly difficult" for university authorities to catch exam cheats adding that she "despairs" at the idea that students would use earpieces.

She called for universities to "do what is necessary" to protect the integrity of exams, even if this meant using more "intrusive" methods of checking students.

A 'cheat' calculator which doubles up as a word reader or video player, found advertised online

Baroness Alison Wolf, a cross-bench peer and professor of education at King's College London, suggested that universities need to update their checks on students, and may have to consider installing airport-style metal detectors.

She said: "If it gets really widespread then students will just have the queue for hours to get in [to exam halls]," she said. "We could end up with that. The costs of this would be just huge."

Data obtained through Freedom of Information requests has revealed a 42pc rise in cheating cases involving technology over the last four years. The figure rose from 148 cases in 2012 to 210 in 2016, it showed.

In 2016 a quarter of all students caught cheating used electronic devices.

It comes as cheating in exams could soon be made a criminal offence as the Department of Education is consulting with universities over how to crackdown on cheating students.

Cheating students university

It is considering a number of proposals with higher education bodies, ranging from fines, academic blacklists, and even criminal records for students caught cheating.

Matthew Warman MP, a member of the Technology Select Committee, said the issue could require fuller investigation and guidance from central government. "Universities in time will need to go beyond the basic software they have to make sure these kind of gadgets are not be ingused to cheat the system," he added.

Tim Loughton, a Conservative MP, described the phenomenon as "shocking" and urged the Government to take steps to stop in-ear devices. He added: "It is a sorry situation that we might have to come to everyone having their ears inspected, which may be what needs to happen."

An eBay spokesman said: “We work with the police and regulators to ensure that all our listings comply with the law. There are blocks in place to prevent listings like these, and we also constantly monitor our marketplace to prevent the listing of items that contravene our policies.”

Amazon declined to comment.

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