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Academic misconduct - CS022305

A student was suspected of academic misconduct in an online examination. The log-in records showed that the student completed the assessment in less than 4 minutes. Some other students who completed the assessment also took a very short time. These students admitted that they had received information about the questions in the assessment from their peers who had chosen to access it at an earlier time within the permitted window. The information had been shared in a WhatsApp group.

The student attended an online meeting with two investigating officers, accompanied by their personal tutor. The student explained that academic staff had told them that they could do the assessment by cutting and pasting text from other documents into the answer boxes. The student explained that they had prepared a number of draft answers to questions they thought might be asked, and had been able to quickly adapt these during the assessment. The student said that they were not in any WhatsApp group with the rest of the cohort. Their tutor agreed that the student did not engage with other students on the course. The student was asked to carry out a mock online exam, on the spot. The student found the tone of the meeting very upsetting, and the academic tutor stepped in and called an end to the meeting. The student sought emergency medical assistance after the meeting because of suicidal thoughts.

The investigating officers decided that the student had seen the questions in advance and applied a penalty. The student’s appeal against the decision and the penalty was rejected. The student also made a complaint about the conduct of the investigating officers, drawing attention to the conduct of the online meeting. The student said that they believed this was racism, noting that other students, who were white, received a lesser penalty.

Initially the provider concluded that there was no evidence of racism. However, it identified a number of concerns with the way the academic integrity officers had carried out their role, in particular noting their explanation that they had applied a higher penalty to this student than others, because the student had not “confessed”. It recommended that the officers receive training.

Although the provider upheld elements of the students’ complaint, it did not offer the student an apology. It did not consider whether this called into question the fairness of the findings of academic misconduct.  The student complained to us.

We upheld the student’s complaint (we found it “Justified”). 

We decided there had been several procedural issues throughout the handling of the academic misconduct. The investigating officers had not received any training, and had not followed the correct stages of the process. It was not appropriate to surprise the student with a mock exam especially when those asking questions to test the student’s academic ability did not have relevant academic expertise. The conduct of the meeting had been inappropriate and questioning was very persistent. The student’s explanation of their actions had not been adequately explored, and important questions were not asked.

We recommended that that the provider should offer the student an apology from a senior member of staff, pay compensation of £6,000 in recognition of the severe distress caused to the student, and remove all reference to the finding of academic misconduct from the student’s record. We also recommended that the provider should review its academic misconduct procedure and its Dignity at Work and Study procedure.