Uzbekistan: testing your cheating speed, or “Hares”, “Runners” and ten thousand dollars
“Welcome!”, reads a sign at the entrance to a university in Tashkent. “To what?” one may ask, “to a world of bribes, lies and hypocrisy?” The results of the August 1st nationwide entrance exams to all universities in Uzbekistan will be announced in the next few days. Despite the countless measures taken to prevent cheating (complete shutdown of text messaging services in the country, armies of policemen and professors patrolling the exam rooms, etc.), prospective students rely not on their smarts, but on cheat sheets and the help of their resourceful intermediaries who have everything “under full control”.
“Ferghana”, managed to speak to one of the parents who did everything to make sure his child gets accepted to a university with a full scholarship. The following account is with regard to a university located in one of the provinces of Uzbekistan. The names of the people in this account have not been disclosed upon their request.
- Please tell us how you prepared for your son’s university entrance exam.
- In spring we spoke to a professor from a university who offered to help us with the entrance exams. We immediately inquired about the cost of such a service. However, he refused to name a price with the justification that, the process remained unclear and the situation would manifest itself prior to the exam, along with the price of this service. This professor, also suggested not to trust anyone who offers a “one hundred percent guarantee”. I had previously had an encounter with one of these “one hundred percent guarantees” back in February. The conditions of the bargain were that I pay 7-10 thousand dollars upfront and then calmly wait for the exams. “Will our son then be accepted on a scholarship?”, I asked. “He will, we will take care of everything. Even if the exam does not go the way we planned, we can go directly to the exam center in Tashkent. There are people there who will do the desired job for a certain price. So if you want to be sure, pay upfront.”
- So what did you decide to do?
- I didn’t like that person's confidence and his demands that I pay upfront. I had heard many stories of cases of failure to get accepted to a university despite bribery. Things did not go as planned during an entrance exam of our neighbor’s daughter, whose family did exactly that - paid up front. Exam supervisors took away her phone at the exact moment when she started passing on the exam questions to her “helpers” outside of the university, and everything failed. The people who received money to ensure her entry refused to give refunds, claiming that their daughter is the one at fault. They, allegedly, had hired so many people: “a hare”, “a runner”, three expert teachers for each of the three exam subjects - the entire team consisted of seven to ten people. The team had already divided the money amongst themselves and refused to reimburse the family. They said she should have been more careful, and shouldn’t have given away her phone to the supervisors.
- Could you please explain who are the “hares” and the “runners”?
- Such terminology is used regarding the exam process by the parents, intermediaries and the students themselves. A “hare” is a person who takes the exam questions out of the exam room and passes it on to the “runner”. A “runner” receives the questions from a “hare” and takes them to the expert teachers in a rental flat nearby. These experts receive their share of the money for correctly answering the questions, which are then returned to the prospective student.
- Have you tried hiring teachers to tutor your son so he could pass the exams on his own?
- That’s what we decided to do. My son was tutored the entire spring. He went to private tutoring classes four times a week, which cost us 80 thousand soms per month (an official exchange rate is 1$=3000 soms). At the beginning of July, his private tutor summoned us and demanded $5000 as payment for my son’s entry to university, half of it upfront. He said that there are no guarantees - anything could happen during the exam. He proposed that my son and a few other prospective students move into his neighbor’s apartment until August 1st, the exam date. He promised to tutor his apprentices day and night in order to have them fully prepared. The preparation, however, entailed not only tutoring, but also a logistical training on the process of deceiving the exam supervisors with three options.
- Three deceiving options? What kind?
- First: papers with the exam questions would be taken out of the auditorium and passed on to a rental flat nearby the university, where several experienced professors will be waiting. They will answer the questions, and the papers with the correct answers will be given back to the prospective student. The process of returning the answers will be their own responsibility- the price of the “experts” is included in the total payment.
Second: the prospective student would have to use their smartphone to take photos of the questions and pass the memory card or the phone on to a “hare”, who will pass it to a “runner”, who will then take it to the rental flat with the experts in it. The experts will then answer the questions and recite the correct answers back to the student on the phone. For example, “question 1 - A (Alex), 2 - B (Brad), 4 - F (Felix)”, etc.
Third: the prospective student calls the experts from the exam room, recites the questions and receives the answers.
Fourth: if none of the above options work out, the student would have to be fully prepared to answer the questions independently, without any outside help.
- Did you agree?
- I agreed, but could only pay the tutor $4000, with only $1000 upfront. I said I would give him the rest of the money once the situation clears up. After a bit of bargaining, the tutor agreed. I requested that he try to have my son accepted with a full scholarship. He said if I wanted my son to go to university with a full scholarship, I had to add at least another $500 to the total payment. I agreed.
Eventually, my son and 5 other boys moved into the tutor’s neighbor’s house, for which I paid an additional 100 000 soms, and started preparing for the exam day. On July 25th, I brought the first part of the payment of $1000 to the tutor. But on August 31st, my son called me and informed that they did not find a “hare” for him, and that he would try to find one for himself. That would, however, mean that we would have to pay an additional $100 for an extra team member.
At first, the unexpected additional expenses angered me, but after a bit of thought I decided that we could deal with the problems the next day.
On the morning of August 1st I drove up to the university, as my son was about to enter the auditorium and attempt to find himself a “hare”. Allegedly, many students with no intention of getting accepted apply to take the exam in order to become a “hare” for others – there will be “hares” willing to do the job in every exam room. After quickly filling out their answers during the exam, the “hares” leave as soon as possible taking other students’ “packages” on the way out. The plan was that my son would give his phone to a hired “hare”, who would call me once he or she is out of the university building in order for me to be able to pick up the package and take it to the “experts”.
“Did all the other students who studied together with you find their “hares” and “runners?”, - I asked.
“Those who paid the full amount upfront did, but the ones like me were told to take care of it on our own”, - he answered.
After taking a phone number of one of the main “experts” from my son, I called them and found out the location of the rental flat in order to be able to do the “runner’s” job without losing much time.
In 2016, live broadcast of the exams was shown on the screens installed outside the universities across the country. What did the worried parents see on those screens? – The process of cheating, live.
I waited for news from my son for a very long time after he entered the auditorium. The “expert” even called me several times, inquiring about the situation. My son finally called me at half past twelve and informed me that his “hare” had just left. A few minutes later I received a phone call from a girl that was sent by my son. I described the color, license plate and make of my car on the phone and was approached by a young girl, whose first words to me were “$100, please”. She was in a hurry to deliver other packages to “runners”.
Later, my son told me that prior to the exam, that girl let everybody know she had no plans of getting accepted to the university, and that she would gladly carry out the job of a “hare” for whoever was in need. She must have earned over $500 that day.
- How did your son manage to sneak a phone into the building? I thought the supervisors take them away at the entrance?
- He took three phones with him and hid them the best he could. The supervisors only found one of them, and he took the other two into the auditorium. It was very strict there – you couldn’t even lift your head up until 11:00. The police caught one student cheating, confiscated his phone, wrote a report and kicked him out. They also caught another girl, but she started crying, saying that going to university was her last chance at avoiding a forced marriage to someone she did not love. She screamed for forgiveness, which was granted, and she calmly continued cheating during the exam.
Having seen that, my son built up his courage, took out his phone, and photographed the exam questions. He then quickly took the memory card out and gave it to the “hare”.
- How did you proceed after having received the “package”?
- I ran to the rental flat. The experts, who apparently waited for me responsibly, ran out of the building. After following them back into the apartment, I saw a row of mobile phones with prospective students’ names on them lying by the window. That’s when my son’s phone rang and I was informed that the experts would now tell him the correct answers.
Suddenly, I received a call from an unknown number. It was my son’s friend’s “hare”, who which had already been paid and had to pass the questions on to someone who would take them to the experts.
I had to go back to the university building, pick up the “package” and run to “the safe house”. The experts looked at the newly arrived phone and decided that the photos were too blurry and unclear to be able to decipher the questions. All the while, two other experts were taking turns in telling my son the exam answers on the phone – each answering questions in their own fields. The apartment worked like a factory – parents carrying out the job of “runners” kept hectically running in and out of the flat.
- Our readers must be intrigued! Did everything work out in the end?
- My son left the building at 13:30 and told me he had received all the answers from his experts. However, we had to stay there for another hour and a half so we could take back my son’s phone from the supervisors. Only at 3pm the future students were allowed to approach the confiscated belongings. My son found his phone without the back cover or the battery… Nobody knew anything, the crowd was unhappy and loud, expensive phones were stolen, but nobody heard the complaints or answered any questions. My son’s phone was a rental from our neighbor, so he had to open up another phone and take out the battery and the back cover from it on order to return the device in its entirety. I suppose it was robbery… but he was robbed as well, what should he have done?
- Very nice. University education stars with bribery and robbery… Why were you so sure the experts gave your son correct answers?
-They gave us the transcripts of the answers and we had the questions on my son’s memory card, so we checked everything the next day. I guess my son got accepted with a full scholarship! My friend’s son, however, whose father paid upfront and had a “hare” beforehand (and for whom I also carried out the job of a “runner”), failed… When will the results of the exams finally be released? We can’t wait!