Promoting academic integrity

17th December 2019 ·

Public awareness of academic misconduct has been elevated by a series of scandals portrayed in the media. There is widespread belief that misconduct, in terms of contract cheating amongst students, is a growing problem, and if left unchecked, threatens to undermine the credibility of Australian research and the calibre of graduates from our universities.

Contract cheating occurs when a student submits an assessment piece, such as an essay or exam, that has been completed for them by a third party – irrespective of whether it is paid or unpaid. It is thought to have grown due to a range of financial and policy pressures within the higher education sector, and technological advances that make it easier for cheating services to be sourced and exchanged globally.

Demographic features such as age and language background, as well situational factors like peer culture and the perceived likelihood of detection, are identified as some of the reasons why students cheat. Studies also associate academic misconduct with larger class sizes and the casualisation of teaching, weak teacher-student relationships and assessment requirements being unchanged for long periods of time.

Governments efforts to address contract cheating have focused on passing legislation that criminalises advertising or providing contract cheating services. The legislation is aimed at commercial cheating services, not the students that use them. Under the legislation the national regulator (TESQA) has new powers to investigate and recommend prosecution of cheating service providers, and can seek court injections to force internet service providers and search engines to block cheating websites. The legislation hopes to strengthen institutional policies and procedures, and existing regulatory arrangements, such as the Higher Education Standards Framework (2015).   

In complement to the legislation, ACIL Allen has delivered a project for the Department of Education that brought together Australian higher education providers and student representative bodies to develop a statement on academic integrity. The statement sets out how institutions and their students will uphold the core values underpinning integrity (such as honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility and courage). The statement makes clear the seriousness of failing to act with integrity. Not only can students lose grades or fail to pass a course, but may also waste their families’ investment, have their visa cancelled or be rejected from their profession of choice. For institutions the consequences potentially include significant reputational damage, declining staff morale and compromised research.

Legislation alone cannot completely disrupt the supply of contract cheating services or deter students from misconduct. Best practice developed in Australia encourages institutions to take a holistic approach. This means that academics, professional staff and students should be engaged in identifying the challenges and developing the solutions. It means that policies and disciplinary procedures are clear and easily accessible, and that preventive approaches like education campaigns codesigned with students are part of the solution.

ACIL Allen is a long-standing relationship with the higher education sector – from strategic advice to evaluations, cost benefit analysis to capability reviews – we are a trusted source of advice on sensitive, complex matters like academic misconduct. On integrity, we have proven expertise in policy analysis and procedural review, and a breath of techniques to ensure genuine stakeholder engagement across the academic community.