MBA students likelier to cheat

56% surveyed acknowledge dishonesty
Study blames focus on getting job done


SHARDA PRASHAD, The Toronto Star

Who says cheaters never prosper? MBA students in Canada and the United States are more likely to cheat than students in other disciplines because they believe it is how the business world operates — and because they believe their peers cheat, according to a new study.

The study found that 56 per cent of graduate business students admitted to cheating in the last year, compared with 47 per cent of non-business students. More than 5,000 MBA students from 11 graduate business schools in Canada and 21 schools in the U.S. took part.

  Jim Fisher, vice-dean of MBA programs at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, said he wasn’t surprised by the results, since MBA students are highly competitive and have a high need for achievement. “There is a propensity for those types of behaviour.”

To dampen the impulse to cheat, students at Rotman must sign a form every time they submit course work for grading to ensure they comply with academic honesty policies. When MBA students work in teams, they also must sign forms stating that they didn’t cheat, nor did their teammates.

Over the past year, less than a handful of MBA students at Rotman were caught indulging in some form of academic dishonesty such as plagiarism. Such behaviour results in a grade of zero, and students can fail as a result. The study, Academic Dishonesty in Graduate Business Programs: The Prevalence, Causes, and Proposed Actions, was conducted by management professors at Rutgers, Washington State and Pennsylvania State universities. It will appear in the next issue of the Academy of Management Learning & Education journal.

“Those numbers are probably under-reported,” said Donald McCabe, lead researcher on the study and business strategy professor at Rutgers.

Since the survey was voluntary, more dishonest students were less likely to fill out the survey, and those who did complete it may have under-reported how much they cheated, McCabe said. The study suggested that MBA students were more likely to cheat than others because they were focused on “getting the job done, versus how they got it done. They will suggest, in the business world the emphasis is on getting the job done at any cost.”

Not everyone agrees that’s the case.

“I’m not surprised to see something like this printed,” said Anita Shankaran, a consultant at Sapient Corp. who earned her MBA from the University of Toronto in 2003. “It’s an easy stereotype to present the MBA as an ultra-competitive person who has a drive to get what they want whatever the cost. … We’re a big group with a fairly diverse background.” Shankaran said colleagues in her MBA program had a lot to lose and so would be less likely to cheat than others. MBA degrees, for example, can cost more than $80,000 and students often have to give up careers to pursue one. “I think you’re more accountable because the stakes are higher. It costs you more to take time off and you’re hoping for a big return on this investment.”

Most MBA programs require business and personal references and a screening interview before candidates are admitted. The programs also include courses in business ethics. Other reasons why MBA students might cheat include increased workloads and stress, added Larry Wynant, associate dean of programs at the University of Western Ontario’s Ivey School of Business. “There is also employer pressure to get high marks,” he said. “The past few years there has been tremendous pressure to get jobs, because the employment outlook has not been as rosy (for MBA graduates) as in the past.”




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