Students from top universities have tried to pay private tutors to take online exams and write essays for them to cheat their way to a degree, The Telegraph can reveal.
Assessments have been increasingly moved online because of the pandemic meaning students take tests at laptops in their bedrooms as opposed to in exam halls.
Tutors in a range of subjects have described being approached online and offered payments into the thousands of pounds to covertly complete degree work.
The problem is said to have intensified as exam season approached, with one tutor claiming she was approached four times in the last month with illicit offers.
University leaders have been accused of “sticking their heads in the sand” over the scale of cheating, brought about by hundreds of thousands of students doing exams effectively unsupervised.
A private economics tutor, Naomi Wilson, said she now carries out her own detective work to identify students asking her to cheat and reports them to their universities.
The Cambridge University graduate, 23, said she had been horrified by the number of people who had messaged her asking to sit their exams online for them.
All of the tutors who spoke to this newspaper said they had been contacted on the online platform Tutor Hunt, which connects legitimate students and tutors for a fee. While the site bans tutors from completing any assignments for tutees, some students have attempted to contact tutors for this purpose.
One message sent through the website to Ms Wilson on May 29 said: “Hi Naomi, noticed you cover economics. I’m a second year student sitting an International Economics exam (BSc) on Monday, June 7.
“Appreciate this platform is for tutoring but was curious to see if you’re familiar with International Economics and if I sent the exam over on the day (10am), you could provide answers for this? Look forward to hearing from you.”
Ms Wilson said she had immediately turned all offers down but knew tutors who had agreed to help with the cheating as “having principles is quite expensive”.
She told the Telegraph: “One student I had from Brunel University a few days ago was saying ‘I will send you the exam, it’s 24 hours, I will send you the sheet and can you get it back to me by 3pm?’."
A student who contacted her from Royal Holloway university last year even sent over their login details so she could do the exam on the university’s online portal.
Ms Wilson said she had also recently reported students who were trying to cheat to the London School of Economics (LSE).
An engineering tutor, who asked not to be named, said he recently reported a student to “one of the top British engineering universities” after he sent him a message on Tutor Hunt asking him to help while he was sitting his exams.
He said the university had taken it seriously when he reported the student, but said of the online attempts to cheat: “Everyone involved in education knew this was going to happen, a lot of people have their heads in the sand about it.
“I would be astonished if anyone genuinely believed that they have robust exams systems that are safe against cheating – they must be aware there are huge quantities of cheating happening.”
Eve Debbage, who tutors English for A-Level students, said she had also been contacted by a student who was looking for shortcuts while remote learning was still taking place.
She said: “One student asked me to write answers to questions because they said they’re working online and don’t have many examples from teachers.”
Tutor Hunt did not respond to a request for comment.
A spokesman for Brunel said Ms Wilson’s complaint about the student asking her to help cheat on an exam was “immediately escalated” and an investigation was “ongoing”.
"We take a hard line where allegations of cheating are found to be proved, as it represents a threat to academic standards and integrity,” they said.
A spokesman for LSE said academic misconduct was taken “very seriously” and the university carries out investigations “into all allegations it receives”.
A spokesman for Royal Holloway said: “The university has a reputation for academic integrity, and we take any allegation of academic misconduct very seriously.”