Student alleges cheating, misbehaviour at Whitireia Polytechnic

Chris Gosling Photo: RNZ / John Gerritsen.

A former international student has alleged that cheating and serious student misbehaviour occurred in an automotive course at Whitireia Polytechnic last year.

The man said tutors gave students the answers to tests on three occasions and tolerated abusive and aggressive behaviour from students in the level four certificate course he finished in the middle of last year.

The polytechnic dismissed the allegations, saying it had not received any other complaints about such problems and it could not investigate anyway because the staff and students involved in the course had all left the institute.

The Qualifications Authority told RNZ it was considering the allegation of academic fraud and determining what it would do next.

The former student, who asked not to be named, said student behaviour in the course was so bad it sometimes resembled a circus.

"You saw behaviour that you would expect maybe in a high school. Things were violent, teachers were being cussed out from time to time, we saw students uttering threats to each other, we saw damages to property. It was basically, I say, run like a circus," he said.

The man said some students appeared to be under the influence of drugs at times.

He said on three occasions tutors gave students the answers to tests they had to pass in order to get credits toward their qualification.

"At a class level, students are presented with the test answers on a projector and encouraged to write the answers in their own words," he said.

Other former students corroborated some of the man's allegations.

A former student from the automotive course said he too had seen tutors give students the answers to tests and some students behaved like out-of-control teenagers.

Another former student from a level four carpentry course last year said his class often sat exams together. He said tutors did not provide the answers, but they would query students if they had given the wrong answer and allow them to correct what they had written. He said some students behaved badly and he felt physically threatened once.

The student complained to Whitireia Polytechnic in March last year after another student put his fist against the man's head and threatened him. The complaint was resolved with an apology from the offender, but the polytechnic did not address the student's concerns about almost daily "incidents of student misconduct", and about alleged under-resourcing of the course.

The man said he accepted the outcome of his complaint and did not mention the alleged cheating because he was worried about endangering his application for residence.

But after he gained residence, he wrote to Whitireia in March this year saying he was unhappy with the course and wanted half of this $20,000 tuition fee refunded.

The polytechnic refused, saying he should have pursued the matter at the time of his complaint last year and there was no basis for a fee refund because he successfully completed the course.

Polytechnic head unaware of 'complaints of that nature'

The student then complained to the Ombudsman and the Qualifications Authority, but both organisations refused to investigate.

The Ombudsman said Whitireia had complied with its rules for dealing with complaints and an investigation was unnecessary. The Qualifications Authority refused to accept the complaint because the Ombudsman was considering it, but said it would treat the alleged academic fraud "as a concern".

Whitireia Polytechnic chief executive Chris Gosling told RNZ the institute could not investigate the student's allegations because the staff and students from the course had all left the institute.

"We haven't looked into that specific allegation and the reason for that is that student finished halfway through last year so it's well over a year ago.

"The staff member that would have taught that course and in fact all of the students that would have been in that course have now moved on from the polytechnic and given the length of time that's passed since the alleged activity we think it's not feasible at this stage to be looking into that allegation and we haven't received any other complaints of that nature regarding that programme," he said.

However, Mr Gosling said he was confident tutors were not giving students the answers to assessments.

"I haven't seen any evidence to suggest that it is happening in the past or certainly that it is happening now. Given the relatively small number of complaints that we have, and none of the complaints that have come through formally about the matter that is alleged here, I am pretty confident that that sort of irregularity is not happening."

Mr Gosling said he also had not received complaints about tutors tolerating disruptive and abusive students.

"It's really important to us that we have a healthy and safe learning environment for all our students, and that's part of the responsibility of teachers to make sure that's the case. Again I've not received any complaints, I'm not aware of any complaints of that nature," he said.

Mr Gosling said the former student should have raised the alleged problems last year when he complained about the assault.

He said the Qualifications Authority had not contacted him regarding the allegation of cheating.

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