Defining academic integrity
- Beta release for consultation and feedback. Please email comments and suggestions to academic.integrity [at] teqsa.gov.au.
Academic integrity is commonly defined as:
‘the expectation that teachers, students, researchers and all members of the academic community act with: honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility.’
It is important that Australian higher education students do their part to uphold academic integrity during their studies. This is because studying is the foundation for your professional knowledge and practice. If you don’t do the work and develop the knowledge expected of a graduate from your course, you will be at a serious disadvantage in your future career. In some cases, professional bodies may refuse to accredit you because of cheating during your studies.
Similarly, students are part of a learning community when they study. Actions that undermine the academic integrity of your course or institution could have negative reputational consequences for you in the future.
Maintaining academic integrity also protects you from criminals. Students who use commercial cheating services to buy an essay, study notes or have someone impersonate them in an exam, are at risk of blackmail. Research shows operators of these illegal cheating services can threaten to inform the institution or the student’s future employer about their contract cheating unless the student pays them a large sum of money – sometimes years after the cheating took place.
Academic Integrity: A summary video (a transcript of the video is available)
Student behaviours that support academic integrity include1:
- using information appropriately, according to copyright and privacy laws
- acknowledging where the information you use comes from
- sitting your own exams and submitting your own work
- accurately reporting research findings and abiding by research policies
- acting in an ethical manner in all your academic endeavours.
Following these behaviours means doing the 'right thing', even when you are facing difficulties affecting your academic performance. In times when you are facing difficulty, it is best to speak to your lecturer/tutor or course coordinator.
There are a range of student behaviours that can undermine academic integrity. Sometimes, students mistakenly believe that these behaviours are commonplace or without consequence. This is wrong – substantial penalties can apply for breaching academic integrity (see Penalties for breaching academic integrity below for more information).
Behaviours that undermine or breach academic integrity include2:
When you submit work that is not your own without acknowledging the original source of the work, it is known as plagiarism. It doesn’t matter whether you do this on purpose or accidentally, whether you change the words to make them your own or simply copy and paste. It is wrong to do this – you need to reference the source material.
Recycling involves submitting (or resubmitting) work that has already been assessed without your teacher’s permission. For example, submitting a report you were graded on in a first year class as part of your work in a third year class. If you want to build on your previous work, you should discuss this first with your teacher.
Fabrication involves making up information for research-focused assessment tasks, such as experimental or interview data. It can also include inventing sources of data, evidence or ideas by including citations to publications that are incorrect or that simply don’t exist.
Collusion involves engaging in illegitimate cooperation with one or more other students in the completion of assessable work. Cooperation is not legitimate (or appropriate) if it unfairly advantages a student or group of students over others. It can include working with a friend or group of friends to write an essay or report that is meant to be an individual piece of work. It can also include sharing quiz or test questions and answers with other students, as well as written assignments like reports and essays. Students should also never share their work with others as there is a risk the person you share it with could upload it to an illegal commercial cheating service or circulate it to others.
Exam cheating includes a range of behaviours such as writing ‘cheat notes’ on your body or materials you take into the exam room, attempting to copy from other students, communicating with other students or people outside the exam venue while the exam is in progress, using electronic devices to access information related to the exam while it is in progress or bringing prohibited items, such as unapproved calculators or text books into exams.
Contract cheating and impersonation
Contract cheating involves getting someone else to complete part or all of your work and then submitting the work as if you had completed it yourself. This can include asking someone else to sit an exam for you or having them write an essay, report or some other kind of assignment, which is sometimes referred to as 'ghost-writing'.
Student actions that support commercial contract cheating services are also considered breaches of academic integrity. This includes behaviours such as uploading teaching materials such as practice exams, lecture slides and assignment questions to 'study notes'.
Video: Contract cheating: It’s just not worth it (Western Sydney University)
Students face a range of penalties for breaching academic integrity, which is commonly referred to as ‘academic misconduct’ or ‘academic dishonesty’. There is a common misconception that students rarely get caught. Yet research shows teachers and institutions are able to detect breaches of academic integrity, and students doing the wrong thing do get caught.
Depending on the seriousness, penalties for breaching academic integrity can include:
- having to repeat the assessment task or unit of study
- failing the assessment task, unit of study or course
- being expelled from your institution, which may impact your student visa
- facing criminal charges.
In addition to the risk of academic or criminal sanction, being found to have breached academic integrity can impact your relationships with other students, family and friends, impact your future career and cause you to suffer a financial loss or even lose your student visa.
If you have questions about academic integrity, or need study skills advice and support, you should speak with your institution. A good place to start are your teachers or course coordinator.
If you are alleged to have breached academic integrity, you should treat this matter seriously. Your institution must have in place clear policies and procedures related to student discipline, complaints and appeals. You should refer to these policies. Depending on your institution, you may also be able to seek advocacy and support services offered by a student association.
As we outline in Identifying, avoiding and reporting commercial cheating services, you should avoid accepting help from websites or services advertised on social media, as these may actually be illegal commercial cheating services.
- Definitions adapted from material developed by La Trobe University.
- Definitions adapted from material developed by The University of Sydney.