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What is academic integrity?

Understanding academic integrity

 What is academic integrity?

Academic integrity 

Academic integrity is:

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‘the expectation that teachers, students, researchers and all members of the academic community act with: honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility.’ 

Breaching academic integrity is also known as ‘academic misconduct’ or ‘academic dishonesty’.

All Australian higher education students are expected to uphold academic integrity during their studies. An important way of upholding your academic integrity is by contacting your teachers or your school if you are having study problems and working with them on solutions. 

Studying and learning provides the knowledge expected of a graduate from your course but any form of cheating means that you could miss important professional knowledge and practice that you need to succeed in your future career.  

Protecting your reputation

Students become part of a learning community when they study. Actions that undermine the academic integrity of your course or institution could affect your reputation in the future. For example, if you are caught cheating during your studies, professional bodies may refuse to accredit you.

Avoiding criminals 

Maintaining academic integrity also protects you from criminals.

Commercial cheating services are illegal in Australia.  

Students who use illegal cheating services, to buy an essay, study notes or have someone impersonate them in an exam, are also at risk of blackmail. Operators of illegal cheating services can threaten to inform the university or the student’s future employer about their cheating unless the student pays them a large sum of money – sometimes years after the cheating took place.

Behaviours that support academic integrity

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You can support academic integrity by1:

  • acknowledging where the information you use comes from, clearly citing or referencing the source
  • sitting your own exams and submitting your own work
  • accurately reporting research findings and abiding by research policies
  • using information appropriately, according to copyright and privacy laws 
  • acting ethically or doing the 'right thing', even when you are facing difficulties.

If you are having problems that could affect your academic performance, it is best to speak to your lecturer or tutor or course coordinator.

Behaviours that undermine academic integrity

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A range of student behaviours can undermine academic integrity. Sometimes, students mistakenly believe that these behaviours are commonplace or don’t have consequences. 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

Plagiarism

Submitting work that is not your own without acknowledging, citing or referencing the original source of the work, is known as plagiarism. It doesn’t matter whether you do this accidentally or on purpose, whether you change the words to make them your own or simply copy and paste. When you are using another person’s thoughts and ideas, you must reference the source material.

Recycling or resubmitting work

Recycling involves submitting (or resubmitting) work that has already been assessed, without your teacher’s permission. For example, submitting a report that 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.

Fabricating information

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 citing publications that are incorrect or that simply don’t exist.

Collusion

Collusion involves engaging in illegitimate cooperation with one or more other students to complete assessable work. This is different to working on group assignments that are set by your teachers. Examples of illegitimate cooperation 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. Illegitimate cooperation can unfairly advantage a student or group of students over others. 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

Exam cheating includes:

  • 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
  • bringing prohibited items, such as unapproved calculators or textbooks into exams.

Contract cheating and impersonation

Contract cheating is a type of illegal commercial cheating. It 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'. 

Actions that support illegal contract cheating services are also considered breaches of academic integrity. This includes students uploading teaching materials such as practice exams, lecture slides and assignment questions to 'study notes'.

Penalties for breaching academic integrity

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Students can face a range of penalties for breaching academic integrity, which is commonly referred to as ‘academic misconduct’ or ‘academic dishonesty’. It is often thought that students rarely get caught. Yet research shows teachers and institutions can detect breaches of academic integrity, and students doing the wrong thing do get caught3. And ways of catching cheating are constantly improving.

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 penalties, 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.

Getting help

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If you have questions about academic integrity, or need study skills advice and support, you should speak with your institution. Your teachers or course coordinator are a good place to start. 

If you are alleged to have breached academic integrity, you should treat this matter seriously. Your institution must have clear policies and procedures related to student discipline, complaints and appeals. You should read these policies, and you may also be able to seek advocacy and support services from your student association if there is one at your institution.

The next section (Identifying, avoiding and reporting illegal cheating services) outlines why you should avoid accepting help from websites or services advertised on social media because they might be illegal cheating services.

Notes

  1. Definitions adapted from material developed by La Trobe University.
  2. Definitions adapted from material developed by The University of Sydney.
  3. Dawson, P. & Sutherland-Smith, W. (2017). Can markers detect contract cheating? Results from a pilot study, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education.