There are some students on my masters program in mathematics who don't even know the basics of mathematics like an example of a continuous function or similar. They pay someone else to solve the problem sheets and projects for them and somehow managed to pass exams by learning by heart only past exams. Of course I don't have a proof for any of this but I know since they have told me. The head of school thinks he is doing a good thing and that all of the students who passed exams are good students, while myself and students like me were put in a very unfair position. Would there be any sense of addressing this thing and how? For the thing to be worse, those students are female students from the rich Gulf countries and they and their husbands do not need to work(I have absolutely nothing against that, but situation might be politically and religiously complicated in case of addressing this problem. Of course, these kind of things happen in case of any other countries/religions as well, but this is the situation in my case). Just for the sake of argument, in my case, I had to work full time while studying full time. Any advise would be appreciated. Thanks.

EDIT: I am unable to comment so will answer here. The projects and problem sheets took a part in a scoring of the final grade. As they have told me they have been studying only one semester material (out of 2 semester material) and have been learning solutions from the old exam papers from the previous years and many of the questions have been repeated. Also we just had to send the paper via email or give it in a paper form, without any reporting or discussion.

EDIT: in reply to comments, @scaaahu asked: "My point is the student does not even know the basics. How useful would the old exam papers be?" Well, it can be if you are learning without any understanding and by heart from the old exams.

EDIT: It would be impossible for the head of school not to know what is going on, he is well aware of them and the situation but still does not want to do anything about it.

EDIT: I did not mention that their English language proficiency almost does not exist and they presented papers with a great English and professional maths.

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    May I ask a question here? For someone who does not even know the basics of mathematics like an example of a continuous function or similar, how would she pass exams?
    – Nobody
    Nov 10, 2015 at 12:40
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    @scaaahu if a large portion of the exam questions were literally reused every year; or if they come from a fixed pool, of which a large portion have draw out in the past exams students have managed to get hold of. Or if the exam is with say 40% but the problem sheets + assignments are worth 60% (not unusual), and the people being paid were very good. Nov 10, 2015 at 13:04
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    @Oxinabox My point is the student does not even know the basics. How useful would the old exam papers be?
    – Nobody
    Nov 10, 2015 at 13:15
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    @Alexandros: if I see three graduates from a particular university that don't know what a continuous function is, I'll start inferring that the university is crap (as it obviously is if people get away with this), and pretty soon that other graduates may also know less than their diploma implies. That is one way grade inflation in general, and this kind of cheating in particular, hurts bona fide students. Nov 10, 2015 at 14:22
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    If you can pass exams in mathematics well by memorizing past exams while not understanding the material, then there is a problem with your instructor or program. It's still unethical to pay for homework and thesis, and if you can prove that this happens, you might want to report it. However, a program with such exams might not even care; it's hard for me to even imagine how, at a Masters level, you would get away with what you describe for the exams. Nov 10, 2015 at 16:32

4 Answers 4


I will take a wild guess and speculate that the university referred to in the question is in a country that has high levels of systemic corruption, as measured for example by Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index. Countries near the bottom of this ranking have the feature that most if not all of their main institutions experience high levels of dishonesty and unethical behavior. That sounds consistent with the OP's description, and conversely, in countries that rank low for corruption it is hard for me to imagine an academic environment where such rampant large-scale dishonesty could be practiced with impunity by so many people and tolerated and ignored by so many others.

Assuming this premise, I find it helpful to reframe the question as a broader and more general one, that would contain the OP's question as a special case:

What should I do if I am an honest, hardworking person who wants to learn a trade, get an honest job, be judged for my abilities and become successful thorugh talent and hard work; but I live in a country with such high levels of corruption and dishonesty, and such dysfunctional institutions, that I see people all around me getting ahead through cheating and other dishonest means, leaving me no practical way to realize my dreams in the honest way I wish to?

Should I try to fight this behavior? Should I try to find a rare honest person around me in a position of power to complain to about the dishonesty I observe? Will this change anything?

My answer is probably not a very helpful one, but I think it is the only realistic one: leave. The forces you are trying to fight are so much bigger and more powerful than you, that unless you are willing to dedicate your entire life to fighting them, knowing that you will achieve either nothing or very little, your only other choice would be to keep your head down, either ignore or join in the cheating, and resign yourself to a life of dissatisfaction and unfulfilled dreams.

Sorry it's pessimistic and depressing, but there it is. I would probably vote this answer down myself if I could. :-(

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    Sorry, I had to vote this answer up.
    – Nobody
    Nov 11, 2015 at 2:58
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    I too think that this is very good advice, and that - not answers necessarily literally addressing a question - should be what a good answer provides. A poor friend in a SE Asian country enrolled at a top 5 school there had a gun drawn on him by the bullies of a rich class-mate over just talking to the wrong person. He's now happy, and recognized for his contributions, in NYC. Nov 11, 2015 at 3:22
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    Truthful answers are better than lies. Indeed, @user44099, when the whole place is corrupt, the best option is to leave, as quickly as possible while you still can. Don't wait around thinking that things will get better. They won't. This applies to every aspect of life, including jobs. Sad but it's all we can do if we're not the ones in power.
    – user21820
    Jan 13, 2016 at 13:30
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    I am basically agree with your answer, but if every honest and hardworking person will leave this hypothetical country what would became of it? Shouldn't people stay and fight to make their own country worth living in instead of escaping to another country? Just wondering.
    – Flot2011
    Feb 22, 2018 at 12:45

As we don't know if Dan's premise is actually the case, I'll offer an answer with a different premise.

If we assume this institution is in the U.S., then I would start by reading university policy. You're looking for academic integrity and protections for whistleblowers.

Figure out what body accredits the department.

Your next step is to google the top administrators in your university as well as the individuals who direct the accrediting body. Read their CVs. Read their facebook pages. Read their Stackexchange answers. Out of this pool of fish, you are looking to select one who gives you the vibes that she or he will take you seriously, protect you, and take thoughtful, long-term action.

Once you've chosen your fish, now you need to get an appointment to meet with him or her. To do that, you need to get past the secretary, who will push you for a reason for the appointment. I would suggest that you make something up, for example, "career exploration, I want to understand better what a dean does."

Prepare three bulleted lists for your appointment, and print two copies. First, the list of problems that you mentioned here; second, some simple checks this fish could perform to satisfy him or herself that there is a serious problem; and lastly, suggested action steps. Cite relevant university policy.

If you can find at least one ally to attend the meeting with you, so much the better, but be careful in your recruiting.

Make sure you leave with a follow-up appointment scheduled.

For inspiration, read http://whistleblowing.us/2012/02/remembering-roger-m-boisjoly-challenger-disaster-whistleblower-1938-2012/


It does not seem that you have any doubts about how their actions are morally wrong. In that case, the right course of action for you would be to officially report this behavior to competent authorities, unless it is clear from other facts that this would seriously endanger you. I doubt that the university actually encourages such behavior for the sake of attracting a clientele that would buy a degree. The one risk to you that I see is making a serious and unproven accusation, assuming that the parties would not confess. It then reduces to a matter of asking whether it is important enough to you to take the risk that they will deny what they said, and the university is willing to take their denial at face value.


You are working in a criminal organization.

Your question is not an academical question, your question is a criminality question.

On my opinion, what should be done:

  • the license of the university should be revoked to grant diplomas
  • criminal lawsuit should be started against any teacher knowing this and doing nothing
  • criminal lawsuit should be started against any student if there is a suspect that he parted in that activity
  • any diplomas granted by the uni in the last X years should be revoked and/or re-examined.

These will likely result the destruction of the University, which it really deserves. This is what should be done.

You could also consider:

  • collect evidence
  • go with them to the media
  • ask the police silently.

As a young student I also taken part in such activities, but now I am not proud for that. And these were very far from these unimaginable levels as you describe. The normal punishment of students got in such activities was 1 year of suspension, in the first time. Second time they got lifelong suspension. If criminality were also suspected (f.e. forged documents, etc), a criminal lawsuit was also initiated. Any such cases - with the names of the offenders and also their resulted punishments - were reported in the local news of the University.

It is also highly country-specific what you describe. In other, luckier countries even the rare cases of minor cheating is nearly unimaginable.

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    You're entitled to your opinion on what should happen, but I feel this is extremely impractical advice. I am not aware of any case where cheating, even widespread cheating, has resulted in anything remotely close to criminal charges against the institution, much less closing it. And I very much doubt that police would be interested in investigating a situation like this one. Nov 10, 2015 at 19:47
  • I agree that this is not a practical suggestion. But for the record, in the US, "enabling" cheating can lead to criminal prosecution, most recently Atlanta, also Philadelphia, and Hanover NH, where "criminal liability for the conduct of another" was one of the charges. It no doubt matters how blatant the blind eye is (and whether relevant racketeering laws exist in the country in question).
    – user6726
    Nov 11, 2015 at 0:48
  • @NateEldredge I never in my life experienced such level of widespread cheating. I've seen young men on terrible psychological pressure choosing the bad thing. And another young students on terrible financial pressure to help them. But these were rare cases. If if had been so widespread, I had flee the whole criminal org. What the OP describes isn't on the level of the "common" cheating, it is much more.
    – peterh
    Nov 11, 2015 at 1:38
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    This answer is realistic. These things can happen. One example: one private university in Portugal, Universidade Independente, had criminal charges against it and was later closed. There was a scandal envolving the prime minister at that time.
    – iled
    Feb 24, 2016 at 1:13

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