The recent legislative moves concerning exam cheating in the United Arab Emirates and India, namely Federal Decree by Law No. (33) 2023 and Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill respectively, stand as beacons signalling a concerted effort to combat cheating in examinations, yet beneath their seemingly stringent façade lies a complex web of proactive, positive motives and potential ramifications, particularly for stakeholders beyond student communities.

UAE exam law
As an educator for 20+ years in the UAE, a resident of the country for four decades, and a parent, my attention is drawn to the UAE exam law of 2023 (MOE, 2024). The exam law casts a wide net, targeting individuals and entities complicit in facilitating exam-related malpractices. The law delineates strict penalties, including hefty fines of up to Dh200,000, for acts such as leaking exam content, altering grades, or impersonating students.

Indian exam bill
India's proposed bill (Swaminathan, 2024) takes a firm stance against exam leaks, proposing minimum imprisonment terms of three to five years for offenders, with a sweeping scope covering various public examinations and targeting service providers.

Media Coverage - skewed views in news
The intent behind these laws is clear to me: to uphold the sanctity of examinations and safeguard the integrity of academic assessments. However, amidst the clamour of sensationalised media headlines, these legislative measures' broader objectives and nuances seem to get lost in translation. Most headlines I came across screamed in some form that “cheating students will be fined”. However, I find most of them callous and misrepresentative of the law and its objective. A closer look at the UAE exam law clearly states, “[a]nyone other than a student who commits…” (MOE, 2024, p.4). Rather than targeting students, these laws aim to hold accountable accomplices—educators, parents, institutions, or service providers—who aid and abet cheating!
This crucial distinction seems overlooked, perpetuating a narrative that paints all students as potential culprits and exacerbates fears. Such fearmongering not only undermines the intended objectives of the laws, but also detracts from the fundamental role of educational institutions in nurturing ethical behaviour and guiding students towards moral responsibility.

Diving deeper into the semantics
It is imperative to recognise that students are still in the process of moral development, and educational institutions serve as crucibles for shaping their ethical compass. This is clearly addressed where UAE exam law states “[i]f the student commits any act... Disciplinary Procedures shall be applied in accordance with ...Conduct Rules and Regulations in force at the Ministry, Educational Authorities, and Educational Institutions” (MOE, 2024, Article 8). To me, this means, rather than resorting to punitive measures, a more constructive approach is encouraged along with Articles 2, 4 and 5, fostering a culture of integrity through education, guidance, and mentorship.

Legislation against cheating is not new
Legislative actions in the recent past targeting contract cheating service providers in countries such as the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and parts of USA underscore a growing recognition of the multifaceted nature of academic dishonesty. The research of scholars Michael Draper and Phil Newton from 2017 highlighted the inadequacy of existing laws in addressing emerging forms of cheating, advocating for tailored legal frameworks that can effectively combat evolving challenges.

Significance of penalties
In my opinion, the severity of penalties prescribed by these laws serves as a deterrent to potential offenders, sending a resolute message of zero tolerance towards anyone who is complicit or aids a student. However, it is essential to ensure that the penalties are proportionate and balanced, striking a delicate equilibrium between deterrence and rehabilitation (Draper and Newton, 2017).

Practical implementation considerations
An aspect I'll closely observe soon is the security of said exam delivery, which is crucial for upholding transparency and credibility as this demands the establishment of practical guidelines for detection methods and reporting mechanisms. Text-similarity detection software has played a vital role in identifying text matches, leading academics to them to investigate potential plagiarism cases. Recent proliferation of AI-powered proctoring services during the pandemic brought new challenges. Despite their promise, these services faced criticism for their detection accuracy and biases in training datasets (Dawson, 2023). Moreover, the emergence of research highlighting limitations of generative AI detection tools has added another layer of contention (Weber-Wuff et al., 2023). As educational institutions grapple with these complexities, ensuring the reliability of exam processes becomes paramount as we consider implementation of exam laws.

In the era of generative AI tools, where, on one hand, UAE has bolstered its investments and set up ministries and agencies to promote innovation and progress with artificial intelligence, the government is making it clear that the quality of education is of paramount importance and that to ensure inclusiveness and equality in education, we all have to strive to ensure every stakeholder is well aware of the ethical responsibilities towards the success of every student’s learning journey. In conclusion, while the passage of Federal Decree by Law No. 33 (2023) in the UAE and the introduction of the Public Examinations (Prevention of Unfair Means) Bill in India signify commendable efforts to combat cheating in examinations, a nuanced understanding of their motives and implications is essential.

By Zeenath Reza Khan
Associate Professor, University of Wollongong in Dubai,
President, ENAI WG Centre for Academic Integrity in the UAE and
Board member, European Network for Academic Integrity

Draper, M.J., and Newton, P.M. (2017) A legal approach to tackling contract cheating?. Int J Educ Integr 13, 11.
Dawson, P. (2023). Remote Proctoring: Understanding the Debate. In: Eaton, S.E. (eds) Handbook of Academic Integrity. Springer, Singapore.
Swaminathan, S. (2024). India: Centre’s anti-cheating bill to tackle exam malpractices tabled in lower house of parliament. WION. New Delhi. India: Centre's anti-cheating bill to tackle exam malpractices tabled in lower house of Parliament - India News News
UAE Ministry of Education (MOE) (2024) Federal Decree by Law No. (33) of 2023 – Concerning combating cheating and violation of examination system.
Weber-Wulff, D., Anohina-Naumeca, A., Bjelobaba, S. et al. (2023) Testing of detection tools for AI-generated text. Int J Educ Integr 19, 26.

Michael Draper, Professor, Swansea University, UK, Nawar Hakeem, Executive Director of Academics UOWD and Ioana Ene, Copywriter & Media relations specialist UOWD, for your suggestions and editorial assistance.


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