London: Cheating is widespread at British varsities, including the prestigious Oxford University, with over 17,000 incidents being recorded during the academic year 2009-2010, a survey has revealed.

The survey of more than 80 universities has found that academic misconduct is soaring at institutions across the UK, with thousands of students caught plagiarising, trying to bribe lecturers and buying essays from the Internet.

However, only a handful of students were expelled for their misdemeanours, the survey found.

Greenwich University recorded the largest number of cheating incidents overall, with 916, compared with 540 in 2005-06; Sheffield Hallam had the second largest number with 801 last year, more than 500 of which were for plagiarism.

Loughborough University reported 151 incidents last year of which 43 were committed by postgraduates while East London University said that among its 733 cases of cheating last year there were 612 of plagiarism.

Even Oxford University reported 12 cases of academic misconduct, including plagiarism, last year and in two cases students were expelled, while others were marked down, the survey has revealed.

The university fined one student 100 pounds for taking revision notes into an examination and imposed other fines for talking in an examination and taking cell telephones into the examination hall, a newspaper reported.

Likewise, Bournemouth University proved 53 cases of cheating last year but none of the students was expelled. Instead, most were marked down to nil marks.

From Cardiff University's 301 cases of cheating last year, none was expelled but in one case a recommendation was made that the Vice-Chancellor should disqualify the student from further examinations.

Queen Mary reported one expulsion, for an examination offence and ghostwriting, last year out of 74 cases of cheating, the survey found.

Prof Geoffrey Alderman of University of Buckingham, a long-standing critic of falling standards in higher education, said: "I think it's a pretty depressing picture. It's worrying that students now resort to cheating on a widespread scale and that the punishments on the whole are not robust enough."