VILNIUS - Honesty apparently doesn't weigh heavily on the average Lithuanian student's conscience, as a recent poll has shown that a majority of university students cheat on exams in order to receive their diplomas.
Students studying art and social sciences copy more often than those pursuing medical and technical degrees, according to the survey, although the difference is minor.
The results, published by the Spinter pollster for the Lithuanian Union of Student Representations on Jan. 11, caused a minor shockwave in society and spurred academia to determine what legal and methodological measures should be taken to tackle the endemic problem.
First, however, came the blame-game, and many were quick to point to lingering aspects of Soviet mentality.
"In Soviet times an individual's place in society was predetermined by the necessity of a diploma. [Only] afterward it was a matter of relations, parental situations, help from the party, et cetera," said Vytautas Kaminskas, president of the Lithuanian Rector Conference. "In very rare cases knowledge was the foundation of your carrier."
The survey showed that during the week prior to an exam, exactly when students are expected to be studying, a majority is preparing a load of cheat sheets. Some of the more common methods include copying course material onto miniature paper slips, which the students then insert into concealed pockets sewn onto their garments.
A more advanced strategy is to have a friend dictate test answers via indiscrete radio headphones, which can easily be purchased via the Internet.
The poll results showed that such dishonesty was more widespread than expected. As many as 75 percent of university students cheat, the survey found, with those in first-year courses more inclined to do so. Even more troubling, 67.2 percent of those who cheat admitted that it helped earn them a better grade and therefore saw it as an effective method.
Indeed, the desire to obtain a university degree at any price, coupled with a tendency to discredit the merits of knowledge, are the key factors encouraging students to cheat. But Kaminskas admitted that professors were also responsible for the scandalous number of dishonest university test-takers.
"Some academics do not perform their duties as they are required to. Many of them rush to their second job after class and therefore prepare poorly for courses and exams. As a result, they feel guilty in front of their students. In spite of warning or reporting about a cheating student, they keep silent," the rector explained.
Gintautas Braziunas, president of the Lithuanian College Director Conference, said the state's scholarship system was another factor. University students are granted financial support according to their academic performance, irrespective of their financial needs. Thus, only top students receive monthly allowances, which vary from university to university and do not exceed 250 litas (72 euros).
Competition within the classroom intensifies because those students who fall to the end of the line must finance their studies, and those with average test scores, although exempt from paying, still receive no benefits.
"The scholarship system is flawed because is has become a battle over grades," Braziunas said, arguing that scholarships should be based on financial needs rather than an academic basis. However, even this system would be complicated in practice, since income declaration procedures are still far from standardized.
In terms of enforcement, many have suggested that a law with a separate provision specifying consequences for cheating should be passed. Current university regulations only recommend that a student retake an exam if caught cheating. In extremely exceptional cases cheaters are required to repeat the course.
To combat the cheating-epidemic, the Union of Student Representations has initiated a movement "When was the last time you cheated?" As part of this program, representatives plan to attend exams at a number of universities 's without prior warning 's to observe both students and teachers.
If caught, the cheater's name will be reported directly to university administrators.