JSS  Vol.7 No.10 , October 2019
Impact of Higher Institutes of Sport and Physical Education in Tunisia Students’ Pre-University Cheating Behavior on Their Asocial Conduct during University Examinations
To the best of our knowledge, this is the first thesis dealing with cheating in university exams at the higher institutes of sport and physical education in Tunisia. This research is aimed to 1) evaluate the importance of the phenomenon; 2) define the profile of cheating students; and 3) contain the role of the society in the emergence and spread of this phenomenon. 799 students from the four Tunisian higher institutes of sports and physical education volunteered to respond to a quantitative questionnaire-based survey. The data collected were statistically analyzed using the SPSS-version 20 software. A univariate statistical study was followed by a bivariate or multivariate study. 86.1% of respondents admitted that they had cheated during their university education. Univariate and multivariate studies pointed to cheating antecedent as the common denominator amongst cheating students, since 99.98% of them had already cheated at school. Results analysis was performed from two standpoints: the individual and the social context, in which the student was brought up, based on well-established known theories. This twofold approach made it possible to highlight the interaction between the different actors. Student misbehavior is the inevitable result of the shift in social representations of academic norms that have led to the trivialization of cheating, converting student status from mere observer into a follower. The genesis of this culture, where cheating has become part of the norm, is marked by the collusion plays between the actors involved in the training and evaluation processes i.e. students, professors and the institutions.

1. Introduction

As an internationally widespread phenomenon, cheating is a subject of vigorous debate. This phenomenon relates to every field of human activity such as games, sports, politics, business, education, and worries everyone concerned.

We have devoted ourselves to the recurring exam fraud and the enhancement of school profitability “at any cost”, immoral connotations which put the whole body of educational institutions in an immense embarrassment. School and university cheating has been highly publicized in recent years, especially as the exams approach [1]. However, this phenomenon is not new. According to Marchand [2], the first cases of cheating in the French baccalaureate appeared shortly after its establishment in 1808 (decree of March 17, 1808). In Tunisia during the time of the “Ezzeituna”, Mohamed Tahar Ben Achour mentioned in his book, “Alaysa Assoubhou Biqarib”—Isn’t dawn close?— [3] the issue of cheating without the direct use of the term. In this book, he proposed his program of educational reform at the Zeitouna University. These instances of cheating seem to be widespread. The individual’s attitude towards this phenomenon remains relative to the circumstances [4]. Cheating is denounced in all institutions at primary, prep school, high school or higher education. Such behavior is naturally punishable.

Our research is mainly focused on the study of the deviant behavior of Tunisian higher education students during classroom examinations, specifically at the four Higher Institutes of Sport and Physical Education (ISSEP) in Tunisia in order to assess the importance of the phenomenon, to determine the profile of the student fraudster, to define the etiological indicators in their activities. This study also aims to address the social context in which academic deviance of future teachers of physical education evolves and is integrated, with the intention for experimenting with an interdisciplinary approach taking advantage of various merged external inputs, in a coherent whole, with fraud.

In short, to develop our analyses and our method of investigation, our sociological approach was not limited to the presentation of the results of official statistics, but was oriented towards a dichotomous study dealing with the individual [5] [6] and the social context [7] [8] [9] from different angles in order to present a more refined social construction with reality and that it can be confronted with the collective actions of the different social actors.

2. Literature Review

2.1. Social Norms

Society cannot be under control without social norms: anomie [10] [11]. Norms set what everyone “must do, must admit, and may demand” [12] (p. 36). This leads to the establishment of the utilization report of the concept by specifying its implicit or explicit dimensions. The norm thus represents an implicit rule, i.e. it is informal. However, the law is an explicit rule that has a formal aspect [5] [13]. For sociologists, the behavior of an individual is considered social only when it conforms to social norms and values.

2.2. Deviant Behavior

Deviance is a sociological concept that refers to behaviors that do not conform to social norms. It is defined as the opposite of the norm [14]. Cusson [15] and Boudon [16], as well as their precursors [5] [17] [18] [19] (etc.) defined it as the transgression of norms, or the violation of prohibitions (stealing from a store), or the adoption of postures that contravene a group’s social practices (blowing one’s nose), forcing the authorities’ edicts or displeasing those around them. Similarly, Goffman [13] defines his reflection on academic deviance as a coping mechanism for students to transgress the rules set by the school.

Moreover, one of the definitions states that a behavior is considered deviant when it simultaneously and recurrently meets three consubstantial criteria: intent, norm transgression, and negative impact [20] - [27] (etc.). In short, it is “a voluntary behavior that violates organizational norms. Consequently, it threatens the functioning of the organization, employees or both” [28] (p. 556).

Moreover, to understand the genesis and etiology of deviant behavior, sociological researchers distinguish two types of deviance, a synchronic model that presupposes that all factors act simultaneously and a sequential model that takes into account changes over time.

The typical tool of our study is the multi-varied analysis. This is an analysis that takes at a time into account all the factors that may possibly produce or act on the phenomenon of deviance through academic fraud during exams.

This approach perfectly goes in line with our research. In this respect, a student commits an academic offense when he breaks the university rules. The offense has a negative impact on his competitors and the university. Academic transgressions are mostly intentional. The student deliberately seeks to make a profit at the expense of others. However, sometimes the student may unconsciously or accidentally violate academic norms. However, this does not prevent him from benefiting from an added bonus and having a negative impact on other students. In both cases, deviant behavior, whether intentional or unintentional, inevitably causes harm. Consequently, in our theory, the voluntary or involuntary aspect of cheating will be discarded in the distinction of the nature of the behavior. The act will be defined according to the respect of the norms, their transgression, and its consequences. Hence, we will focus on the behavior of cheaters in universities as well as their previous deviances.

2.3. Cheating

Cheating is the failure to comply with explicit rules of conduct or established practices in order to take advantage of certain benefits. Cheating can occur in games, sports, exams, etc. Bastid [29] defined cheating as an act of bad faith with the aim of deceiving.

In the school environment, academic fraud is defined as “any act committed by a student that may result in the falsification of his or her academic evaluation or that of another student” [30] [31]. This act involves using a technical process or device to hide a defect or to compensate a gap.

With that in mind, it is worth noting that refusing to comply with the instructions during the examination may constitute a cheating attempt (not to hand in your mobile phone at the entrance), which is punishable according to the regulations in the same way as cheating itself.

All over the world, fraud in universities and elsewhere has become very prevalent. This phenomenon has affected all schools and universities at all levels and has attracted the attention of several researchers from different nations.

American research has shown that the number of students who have engaged in more or less severe cheating behavior during their academic careers has increased from 51% in 1963 to 85% in 1993 [32]. In Canada, according to Canadian Council on Learning, the percentage was 73% in 2010.

In Europe, Aurora Teixeira and Maria Rocha [33], two Portuguese researchers have been deeply involved in this regard. They conducted a major international study (7213 questionnaires across 21 countries). Accordingly, we noted that Poland holds the record, 100% of its students are cheaters. In France, the cheating rate is around 84%, while the Scandinavian countries make an exception with a rate of just 4.9%.

In Africa, Mboe [34] conducted a survey at the University of Yaoundé 1, his study revealed that almost all Cameroonian students, exactly 98.3%, engage in cheating behavior.

2.4. The Foundations of Cheating in Tunisia

Tunisia has been marked during this decade by significant disparities regarding employment and unemployment. In this context, there is an imbalance between supply and demand within the labor market. Therefore, we assume that unemployment prevails multiple areas of labor. The historical increase in unemployment in Tunisia and especially that of young graduates has clearly been marked by significant disparities affecting the regions, education levels and gender [35].

However, to maintain national balance, improving and facilitating the social integration of inhabitants of rural areas and a having a clear vision of the living environment remain essential. These depend on the socio-economic quality of the environment and the individual’s engagement.

However, these facts can also have a negative social impact. They can promote corruption, which is a subject raised in the education of most countries around the world [33] [36] [37]. Consequently, when students become aware of the manipulation and favoritism as a key to academic success, rather than, merit, attendance and effort [38], other acts of corruption such as academic fraud emerge [39].

In this regard, Tunisian universities also face multiple difficulties. These difficulties are likely to promote to the emergence of cheating in university examinations, especially with the degradation of infrastructure, excessive numbers of students in amphitheaters and classrooms, the learning and evaluation sphere, and courses “ill-adapted” to the labor market [40].

As Tunisia takes part in this problem, we considered it useful to add to the existing literature on this subject with the Tunisian case to assess the magnitude of this phenomenon and its underlying factors.

Our study on cheating among students at the four Higher Institutes of Sport and Physical Education (ISSEP) is the first of its kind in Tunisia.

2.5. The Motives of Cheating

The objectives of all students are not always well achieved. As a result, there are unfortunately many deviances.

Several pieces of research have been conducted and enumerated the various reasons that lead students to cheat on exams. Essentially, the motive is both refusing failure and seeking to maintain their average on the exam, or obsessive conduct in order to obtain a better grade [41]. In addition to that, Guibert and Michaut [4] noted that most students are outweighed by the heavy workload. They also agree on the fact that the process of knowledge transfer is ill-adapted and that the scheduling of examinations is inadequate [42].

Durkheim [10] and Merton [11] demonstrated that anomie, or the breakdown of the rules imposed by society on individuals, leads to an increase of dissatisfaction. Consequently, this leads to a rise in the rate of deviant behavior. Moreover, Mucchielli [14] considers that it is necessary to establish and develop a national strategy for solving bullying problems in schools. “It is thus the sanctions and the severity with which they are applied that make it possible to measure the effectiveness of the norms and to distinguish the level of tolerance towards certain deviant behaviors”.

2.6. Proxemics in an Academic Environment and Cheating Related Behavior

In the field of education, Becker [5] considers that academic deviance is acquired as any conventional behavior. Deviants cheat under the influence of the peer group according to their proximity or distance from the norm [43]. These actors are gradually learning to cheat and to develop their skills as “cheaters” in order to promote them as in any social activity.

For Sutherland and Cressey [44], these offences do not result from insufficiency or lack of skills. They result from a learning process that equips individuals with the technical, relational and rational instruments to act. Besides, Guibert and Michaut [4] mention in their work that the recurrence of cheating for students “depends strongly on the experience already acquired in this field” during previous school experience.

3. Methodology

3.1. Hypotheses

According to the literature review, we first adopted a general hypothesis that assumes that “The perception of cheating in university exams is subjective. It depends on the identification, evaluation, and denouncement of deviance by the university authorities and their impositions”. The aim is to identify the underlying factors (independent variables (IV) also known as explanatory variables) and their interaction with the dependent variable (DV), or, explained variable, especially regarding “cheating during ISSEP examinations”.

Hence, and to verify this hypothesis, the empirical part of our research examined the following hypothesis, object of our article, among four operational hypotheses: “The manifestation of deviant conduct during university examinations would stem from the transgression of academic norms, acquired during the pre-university period”.

3.2. Data Collection and Analysis

The tool used for data collection is a six-item individual questionnaire. The majority of the responses were presented in the form of a four-category ordinal scale, called the Likert scale. This tool was developed according to a previously validated questionnaire [45], translated into Arabic using the “parallel-blind translation approach” [46] [47]. The entry and processing of statistical data were carried out using the SPSS-version 20 software. To verify our hypothesis, we used binary logistic regression (p < 0.1) and more precisely the top-down approach as well as the “input” method.

3.3. Research Population

The subjects of our study are students of the first, second, and third year of general license in physical education (LFEP) of the four ISSEP. We distributed a questionnaire during the 2016-2017 academic year. Eventually, 799 completed forms were selected (Table 1). Our samples were relatively representative and proportional to the overall size of the research population (3213 students).

4. Results

To test our hypothesis about the correlation between students’ background and cheating acts during university exams, we used binary logistic regression. This study begins with the examination of data obtained using the top-down method, while shedding light on the dependent variable or explained (DV) ‘‘BH’’ (cheating in university examinations), which we intend to explain by the relationship established from the 35 independent variables (IV) or explanatory variables retained as illustrated in Table 2 below.

In the search for a logistic model, after 26 iterations steps, the model kept only 10 explanatory variables “L”, “P”, “S”, “U”, “V”, “X”, “AA”, “AC”, “AN” and “AO” (Table 3).

The variables “AA” (Having someone else to write for you.) and “AC” (Writing for another student) were then manually discarded since their p-values are greater than 0.1.

The 8 remaining variables were first analyzed by means of the “input” method. The variable “S” (Writing for other students) was then manually eliminated (p > 0.1). This result was confirmed by the top-down method of binary logistic regression. The variable “S” was also eliminated in the 2nd iteration. Therefore, we kept only the 7 variables in Table 4.

Table 1. Distribution of the sample according to levels of study.

Table 2. List of explanatory variables for the analysis of hypothesis 1.

Table 3. List of explanatory variables used for hypothesis 1 by means of the binary logistic regression method.

Table 4. List of explanatory variables selected for hypothesis 1 by means of the “input” method and by the top-down method of binary logistic regression.

By applying the “input” method to the 7 maintained variables, we obtained the same result and the following equation of binary logistic regression:

Cheatingduringuniversityexams = 5.632 + 1.119 X + 0.851 A O + 0.813 V + 0.696 P + 0.543 U + 0.4 L + 0.324 A N

Figure 1 shows the Odds Ratio (OR) for each selected explanatory variable and its 95% confidence interval (CI).

The values of the odds ratios [Exp(β)] and their confidence intervals (CI) are of interest to our research. They allow us to estimate the risk of cheating according to each explanatory variable (Table 5). For instance, a student who “Copies other students’ papers” (“X”) is 3062 times more likely to attempt cheating during university exams with a confidence interval of [1388; 6754].

According to the results in Table 2, illegal acts concern not only evaluation and examinations. They are part of the daily activities of the ISSEP student such as “Downloading files illegally on the internet”, “Copying an audio CD or video without the author’s permission” or “Photocopying a book without the author’s permission”. The continuous spread of fraudulent behavior extends to university exams. Indeed, 96.5% of respondents (771/799 students) acknowledged witnessing cheating at least once.

This statistical study demonstrates that the cheating acts committed in high school years by an ISSEP student increases his probability of cheating at the university, rather than the fact of cheating or attempting to do so in university years. Indeed, some of the acts listed in Table 3, while against the regulations; do not have a statistically significant influence on the individual’s future deviant behavior. As a matter of fact, only 7 out of 799 students began to commit fraud after finishing high school graduation. However, all the variables entered in Table 4 show a significant influence (p < 0.1) on the student’s present behavior. Moreover, a student of the ISSEP who has already committed “giving the answer to another student” (“V”; p < 0.000), “Asking a third party to do the work via Internet for you” (“AO”; p < 0.001), “Giving the answer to other students” (“L”; p < 0.005), “Copying other students’ papers” (“X”; p < 0.006), “Copying a document obtained via the Internet without specifying its origin” (“AN”; p < 0.027), “Asking another student for an answer” (“U”; p < 0.038) or “Using other students’ drafts” (“P”; p < 0.057) is more likely to cheat during exams.

To conclude, our tested hypothesis shows that the dependent variable “BH” (cheating during university exams) depends significantly on the 7 explanatory variables in decreasing order as presented above.

5. Discussion

Corruption is a major alarming concern in Tunisia. The Tunisian Observatory of Higher Education and Scientific Research (OTESRS), in collaboration with the National Anti-Corruption Authority (INLUCC) and the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MESRS), have set up a toll-free hotline ( to report such behavior [37].

Figure 1. The ORs of the explanatory variables selected from hypothesis 1 and their 95% confidence intervals.

Table 5. Odds ratios and their confidence intervals Hypothesis 1.

Talking about corruption in the field of education refers back to the commodification of educational institutions. In this respect, there are signs of a worrying rise in corruption during enrollment periods and notably during exams or national examinations. Moreover, institutions where academic success is based on dishonest manipulations (nepotism, favoritism, cronyism, cronyism, money) [38], put the credibility of all their teaching processes and the value of their diplomas in question [39] [48] [49]. It appears that the popularization of these practices along with the awareness of corrupt individuals of the impact of their deviant behavior on the academic success give rise to other forms of deviances, namely cheating during examinations. As a result, learners seek success at any cost, regardless of norms.

According to Howard Becker [5], the process of deviance involves some experimentation that may lead the individual to marginalization. In contrast, Antony Giddens [7] analyses this process as a continuous reciprocation between field data and theory, up to the cultural affiliation of deviance.

Besides, the average cheating rate within the studied ISSEP is 86.1%, broken down by institution and in decreasing order: Ksar-Saïd (93.70%), Sfax (89.20%), Gafsa (80.92%) and Kef (80.80%). The rate of pre-university cheating among these students is even higher, reaching an extremely high rate of 92% in elementary school and 89.3% in middle and high school. All these results demonstrate the willingness of students to cheat and violate academic norms.

However, it becomes clear during the process that the path to deviance also involved some experimentation with deviant behavior.

It appears that adherence to a culture of deviance would not be possible without a social context that tends to favor deviance in a way or another.

In our research, we try to demonstrate the path followed by collusion actors carefully. Until now, this process has not been much of a concern for researchers. The statistical analysis of our research proves and demonstrates (by validating the hypothesis) that, to achieve his goal desired goal; the learner will face illegal practices on an almost daily basis. These practices start from an early age, whether in everyday life (“Downloading files illegally on the internet”, “Copying an audio CD or video without the author’s permission” or “Photocopying a book without the authorization of its author”), or during university exams. Indeed, 96.5% of students have already witnessed at least one cheating related act during the exams (witness). The study shows how children evolve within educational institutions, where social interactions around academic success lead to cheating [6]. In short, the act tends to become more and more commonplace and perceived by society as “normal”. Therefore, they are no longer shocking. This is due to social regression rather than social control.

In this regard, the statement made by Mr. Abdellatif Abid Tunisian Minister of Education at the press conference on the results of the main session of the BAC 2012, “… the law will decide on the 329 cases of fraud and indiscipline noted during the main session … In addition to mobile phones, sophisticated means were used by students like special glasses equipped with a listening system were seized in a review center of Greater Tunis …”.

During a press conference, the Director-General of Examinations at the Ministry of Education said that in addition to the draconian measures taken to fight against fraud, measures, which proved their effectiveness; 217 cases of fraud were recorded in the main session of 2015 against 525 in 2014. However, in a subsequent statement given to Assabeh newspaper (1 July 2019), the Director-General of Examinations at the Ministry of Education stated that 680 Cases of fraud were identified during the main session of 2018-2019.

The hypothesis of our research aims to draw a clearer and more nuanced image of contemporary fraud. It highlights the process that leads to the adoption of deviant behavior and the path taken by institutions that claim anti-fraud expertise and their professional representatives. Moreover, it tends to demonstrate the relevance of simultaneously analyzing elements that are often considered socially as dichotomies. This study is approached from different angles. It extends from the cheater as an individual to the context in which events occur. It focuses on not only on the legitimacy of the act itself, but also on the perceptions of other external actors. Besides, it examines the discourse promoted by the institutions and its implied meaning to its audience. Thus, it becomes possible to perceive a social “reality” that is sometimes quite different from what would have been expected from research focusing exclusively on one of these angles of analysis. To conclude, while some will retain more of the specific results of our investigations, we hope that the analytical method will remain an option in the minds of researchers. This method consists in simultaneously opposing analytical angles while staging an “analytical conceptual support”. This approach is undoubtedly our secret ingredient, to which we sometimes unconsciously turn, but without which none of this would have been possible.

6. Conclusions

The expansion of higher education in Tunisia has led to an increase in the number of diplomas in all fields and the historic rise in unemployment [35]. Consequently, this caused the devaluation of the students’ level and specializations that are not adequate to the job market [50] [51]. This unbalanced change has created a blurring of social markers for the individual and contributed to the emergence of new perceptions of the educational system both in terms of academic success and the processes for achieving objectives.

While analyzing the process of deviance, our statistical study confirmed that the manifestation of deviant conduct during university examinations is the result of the previous acquisition of a culture of academic norm violation in the pre-university period, either at the primary level (Annex, FigureA1) or at the college and high school level (Annex, FigureA2). However, no individual is deviant by nature [52]. Individuals become deviant in circumstances that promote the advent of deviancy in their environment. They aim to illicitly obtain, intentionally or unintentionally, more gains at the expense of others. Thus, there must be a favorable social context for a person to adhere to a culture of deviance.

Our conviction remains so as in order for the school fraud warning system to be more effective, it would be beneficial as soon as the child is first registered in an institutional establishment, to incriminate the parents and to consider them as a partner to counter any kind of fraud. This synergy makes it possible to pool resources and face together firmly the problematic situations. In this respect, it is incumbent on the mobilized people in this sphere to have clear guidelines and to target prevention and awareness (oral, posters, leaflets, media, etc.) to both children and parents. This association can only be beneficial and can only reduce the distortions between the culture allocated by the school (autonomy of the learner and the integrity) and the existing fraudulent practices (to make an illegal downloading on Internet, to copy a CD audio or video without the permission of its producer …). Thus, good governance would protect the positive image of schools and the valorization of accredited diplomas.

The mission of higher education institutions, like ISSEP, is broader than merely judging the student’s success or failure or delivering diplomas. The approach would generally consist of training of its students to adequately meet the needs of the labor market and ensure progress.

Finally, to whitewash its public image, fraudulent acts in exams and national examinations should not be tolerated to ensure optimal equality of opportunity for all candidates. This phenomenon of school fraud must be eradicated by all the educational, preventive and repressive means to enhance the educational system and enable students to honestly achieve their career prospects—as teacher—with merit.


Figure A1. Breakdown of fraudsters in elementary school by institution.

Figure A2. Breakdown of fraudsters at college and high school by institution.

Cite this paper
Hamani, J. , Ayadi, I. , Elloumi, A. (2019) Impact of Higher Institutes of Sport and Physical Education in Tunisia Students’ Pre-University Cheating Behavior on Their Asocial Conduct during University Examinations. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 7, 220-236. doi: 10.4236/jss.2019.710018.
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