Help sought over theft of exam papers

The University of Otago is urging anyone to come forward if they have information about the theft of exam papers stolen from the registry building at the weekend.

On Monday, police told the media about a break-in at an examination room where exam papers were stored at the university registry building last Saturday night.

Yesterday, university officials said 98 scripts from at least six different papers, in a range of subjects, had been stolen. There had been ''considerable damage to property'' during the burglary, officials said.

Campus Watch staff and police had responded, but the person, or people, responsible had gone by the time they entered the building. Exam materials were held in a secure area of the Clocktower building.

The vast majority of stolen exams had been sat by the students on Saturday, and their scripts were unmarked.

The deputy vice-chancellor academic, Prof Vernon Squire, said it was still the university's hope ''that the scripts will be returned, but at this point we need to put plans in place as this may not occur.

''Therefore, we are making arrangements with the students to prepare for a likelihood that their scripts will not be returned,'' Prof Squire said

''We remain hopeful that this crime can be resolved.''

Planning and effort had ''gone into this act'' and there may well be people in the North Dunedin area who had information that ''could help the police in their investigation'', he said.

And he strongly urged ''anyone with information to contact the police as soon as possible''.

Prof Squire said his immediate concern was for the students who have been affected.

University staff were contacting each of the 98 students who had their exam scripts stolen.

''We understand how upsetting and disappointing this is for the students.

''The considerable effort they have put into their study and exams has essentially been ruined by this reprehensible criminal act.''

''We will do all that we can to support the students,'' he said.

Otago University Students Association president Paul Hunt said he felt ''shock'' when he heard 98 examination scripts had been stolen from the university Clocktower building.

The theft of the examination scripts was ''really frustrating for everyone involved''.

''That's why I hope the police are able to track down who did this,'' Mr Hunt said in an interview.

Some students who had completed their examinations may have wanted to forget about them for the moment, but now were discovering that their ''work is potentially down the drain''.

''It's difficult.''

Some students could find having to re-sit an examination particularly difficult, and OUSA was offering support through its student support centre and wanted to ''ensure everyone gets a fair outcome''.

He agreed there were puzzling aspects about the case, and said he had been left with ''a lot of questions'' about the break-in and why it had happened.

''I can only hope that there's some way of tracking down whoever did it and finding out exactly what's happened.''

He had never heard of a previous incident of this kind.

''It's not something that happens every day.''

Many students had been adversely affected and OUSA was keen to help.

University head of communications Megan McPherson said examination scripts in a range of subjects, mainly completed on Saturday, were affected, including several second year papers, English 240, politics 204, microbiology 223, a sports medicine paper, and a health promotion paper.

About ten students taking a final year dentistry paper, dentistry 551, were being required to resit their final examination.

Ms McPherson acknowledged that some students who had already left the university and travelled elsewhere in New Zealand or overseas could find it difficult to re-sit examinations.

Exams could potentially be sat at other centres, and the university was also taking individual circumstances into account in discussing matters with students, she said in an interview.

Ms McPherson was also asked about puzzling aspects of the case: including that some knowledge of the registry building layout and some planning appeared to have been involved, and the possibility that a student may have wished to remove their own examination answer for some reason.

She said police were investigating and were considering all possible aspects of the case.

• Police contacts: Dunedin Central Police Station on 03 471 4800. Alternatively, information can also be provided anonymously via the organisation Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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