Encourage students to ask for help when they need it
The pressure to succeed, anxieties over time running out, ill health or difficult personal circumstances can make cheating seem an easy and appealing solution. It is important to make sure that students know they can ask for help when things go wrong in their lives or studies, such as asking for an extension or deferral, or changes to exam dates or making a request for additional consideration through extenuating and mitigating circumstances procedures.
Remind students about expectations around academic integrity
It is good practice to remind students at regular points throughout their studies of the importance of academic integrity and of the possible consequences of committing academic misconduct. This should include explaining what academic misconduct is, how students can avoid it and how they can access information, support and guidance when they need it.
It is also important to think of the diversity within your student body. For example, some international students’ academic traditions may be different to what is expected in the UK. Some students may arrive late and miss induction, so catch-up sessions may be required.
Be clear about what is and is not allowed
Students are being targeted through marketing campaigns for online services, some of which may not be allowed under your procedures. Be clear about what is a legitimate study support service or resource and what is not. It may be useful to list the kinds of services out there that may be not permitted, and examples of the companies known to provide them.
Give clear assessment instructions
It is important to be clear about expectations around student conduct during online or remote assessments. For example, what does “exam conditions” mean? What materials can a student access during an open-book assessment? How should students approach an exam that is set over a 24 hour period?
Students with additional support needs
Disciplinary processes should be clear and accessible. Some disabled students may need adjustments to the disciplinary process, such as extending deadlines for responses or making changes to the way the disciplinary hearing is run. In some cases it might be more appropriate to refer the student to support for (or fitness to) study processes rather than to apply a disciplinary penalty.
Signpost students to sources of support
Academic misconduct processes can be complicated and stressful. It is important to direct students to any available support services at the outset. Students' unions and other student representative bodies or student support services can provide information, advice, and guidance to help students understand the process, the implications of any outcome or penalty imposed, and what their options are going forward.
Be explicit about study arrangements while misconduct is being investigated
Students can usually continue with their studies while an academic misconduct investigation is ongoing, but they should also be aware what may happen if the case against them is upheld. Where the outcome of an investigation into academic misconduct could prevent a student progressing, or lead to their expulsion, it is important that they understand these possible outcomes. If the student decides to pause their studies, they should also understand the possible impact this can have on approaching assessments, any time limits on the course of study or visa arrangements.
Don’t add new suspected misconduct at the last minute
When investigating academic misconduct, be clear about what the student is said to have done from the start. Changing the case against the student during the process, especially without giving the student the opportunity to respond to or rebut the revised case, can lead to unfairness in the process. If the investigation reveals that the student’s conduct may have breached another part of the misconduct regulations, the student needs to be given opportunities to consider and respond before a decision is reached.
Burden of proof is on the provider
Keep in mind that, where academic misconduct has been alleged, it is the provider’s responsibility to prove it. The student is not required to prove that they did not do something, although they can provide evidence, such as their notes and drafts of their work, to support their case.
Standard of proof is balance of probabilities
Although the “balance of probabilities” (or “civil standard”) is a lower standard than the criminal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt”, remember that it must still be supported by evidence and is a higher standard than simply believing that something is likely to have happened. For the civil standard to be met, decision makers should be satisfied that it is more likely than not that the event in question happened.
Considering previous misconduct
It is important to make sure any previous record of academic misconduct is shared with decision makers at the right time so as not to prejudice the outcome. Previous academic misconduct will not normally be relevant to whether the student committed the misconduct under investigation. However, it may be relevant if the student has previously committed the same, or very similar misconduct. The student’s previous disciplinary record is most likely to be relevant when deciding which penalty to impose.
Explain the outcome
Decision-makers should give clear reasons for their decisions. This includes explaining why a particular penalty has been applied. It is normally good practice to run through the penalties, starting with the least severe, and to explain why less severe penalties were not appropriate.
Students need to know what impact any penalty imposed will or might have on them. If a student is withdrawn, are they entitled to any credits or an exit award? Will misconduct stay on the student’s record? Will they be subject to other procedures, such as fitness to practise? Students should also be told if a penalty will prevent them from taking up a placement, or progressing to the next level of study, or from graduating. Other consequences, such as having to repeat a year to undertake resits, could mean additional fee or accommodation costs, and should also be clearly explained.
Do the regulations and procedures cover historic academic misconduct?
Sometimes academic misconduct is identified after a student has graduated or completed their course, and regulations should explain the approach the provider will take in those cases. For example, what sort of investigation will take place and what penalties might apply? What will the student’s role be in an investigation, particularly where they are not engaging with the process, or if a longer period of time has passed since they were a student.