Cheating allegations force Oxford University medical students to resit exam

·2 min read
Oxford University - John Lamb/Photodisc
Oxford University - John Lamb/Photodisc

The world’s most prestigious medical degree has been tarnished by allegations of students cheating.

Medical students in their final year at the University of Oxford will be forced to resit an exam after some students allegedly received and circulated information that could have given them an unfair advantage.

An entire cohort of students has been told they will have to take the exam again in the autumn.

Oxford University’s six-year medicine degree is ranked the best medical degree in the world by Times Higher Education. It is one of the most competitive degrees in the country, with around 2,000 applications last year, of which 430 were given an interview.

The degree starts with theoretical studies, with students given more patient contact in later years at the John Radcliffe Hospital.

Students impacted by the cheating investigation were in their fifth year of study when the alleged misconduct took place. The voided clinical exam was sat by 167 students, who will have to sit it again at the start of their final year. The clinical exam is used to assess how students respond to patients in a clinical setting.

The investigation was first reported by Cherwell, the university’s student newspaper.

University ‘takes such concerns incredibly seriously’

Dr Sanja Thompson, the chairman of examiners, wrote in a letter seen by Cherwell that it was “impossible” to know how many students cheated, which meant the whole year would have to resit the exam.

A spokesman for the university said it would not comment on specifics while the investigation is ongoing, adding: “The University of Oxford takes such concerns incredibly seriously. Consequently, the decision has been taken to void the examination, with a new sitting scheduled for the autumn.

“We recognise the uncertainty and anxiety that this will cause for students, and are in ongoing contact with those affected to offer pastoral and assessment support and provide forums through which students’ questions and feedback can be addressed.”

Investigations into suspected cheating at Oxford University almost doubled during the Covid pandemic, figures released in a Freedom of Information request have shown.

The number of investigations related to academic misconduct such as cheating, malpractice and plagiarism rose from 35 in 2018-19, the last academic year before the pandemic, to 68 in 2019-20 and 77 in 2020-21.

The university said that of the investigations in 2020-21, only eight cases of suspected academic misconduct were held up as a breach, representing a small proportion of the 55,000 exams sat, of which the vast majority were open-book exams.

Other leading universities, including University College London, reported a rise in suspect cheating during the pandemic, citing the move to online assessments.