What is academic misconduct?
33Providers are required to ensure that their assessments are equitable, valid and reliable. Any form of cheating poses a threat to the academic standards of a provider’s qualifications, and to the integrity of qualifications awarded to the vast majority of students who achieve their qualification entirely by legitimate means.
34It is up to individual providers to decide what behaviour will constitute academic misconduct. Providers should ensure that their definitions are clear, and communicated clearly to students. An example of a definition of academic misconduct is:
“Any action by a student which gives or has the potential to give an unfair advantage in an examination or assessment, or might assist someone else to gain an unfair advantage, or any activity likely to undermine the integrity essential to scholarship and research.”
35Procedures should define each type of offence, and set out the potential penalties that might be applied and the provider’s approach to considering mitigating factors.
36Examples of academic misconduct include:
- Plagiarism - presenting someone else’s work or ideas as the student’s own;
- Self-plagiarism - submitting the same work that the student has already submitted for another assessment when this is not permitted;
- Taking a copy of another student’s work without their permission;
- Falsifying data, evidence or experimental results;
- Collusion - working with someone else on an assessment which is intended to be the student’s own work;
- Contract cheating - where someone completes work for a student who then submits it as their own (including use of essay mills or buying work online);
- Arranging for someone else to impersonate a student by sitting their examination;
- Cheating in examinations (or other formal assessment), including possession of unauthorised material or technology during an examination, and attempting to access unseen assessment materials in advance of an examination;
- Submitting fraudulent mitigating circumstances claims or falsifying evidence in support of mitigating circumstances claims (this may also be considered a non-academic disciplinary matter);
- Breaches of research and ethics policies - eg carrying out research without appropriate permission.
37It is important to provide comprehensive education for all students on what constitutes plagiarism. This can be particularly important for international students who may come from different academic traditions. Some international students may arrive late and miss induction, so catch-up sessions should be delivered for them.
38Students receive a lot of information when they begin their higher education studies. It is good practice for providers to repeat academic misconduct training, and to reinforce messages about academic integrity, at appropriate points throughout their programmes.
39The training should cover:
- How to reference text correctly;
- Whether unintentional copying can amount to plagiarism;
- How to indicate that text is quoted, for example, whether students need to use inverted commas and/or indented text;
- Whether (and when) extensive paraphrasing might amount to plagiarism;
- Whether reproducing memorised text in an exam amounts to plagiarism;
- When self-plagiarism is and is not permitted;
- That buying essays or text for essays constitutes plagiarism;
- That video and audio clips, pictures and tables can be plagiarised;
- How detection software is used and interpreted;
- The consequences for students if they are found to have plagiarised work.
CASE STUDY 4
Plagiarism or poor academic practice?
A student submits an essay during his first term. The student’s tutor notices that the essay contains a small section of text that is quoted directly from the coursework materials. The quoted text is not separated from the other text by quotation marks, italics or indented text.
The tutor tells the student about her concerns and invites him to a meeting to discuss the essay. She says that she is considering whether to refer the student to the academic misconduct procedures.
After a discussion, the tutor decides that the student did not understand how to reference quotations. She decides to take this into account as poor academic practice when marking the work. She explains the referencing requirements and shows the student some training resources on the provider’s intranet. She tells him that she will not take any further action, but that she is making a record of their discussions so that if his work is suspected of plagiarism in the future, the incident may be taken into account.
The question of intent
40Many providers apply the principle of “strict liability” to academic misconduct offences. Strict liability means that a student’s intentions are not relevant to whether or not they have committed the offence. For example, if a student accidentally takes notes into an exam they are still guilty of an examination offence, even if the student did not take the notes out of their pocket during the exam. Whether or not the student intended to use the notes during the exam is not relevant to the offence.
41Some providers’ procedures require the student to have acted intentionally for an offence to be committed. This is sometimes referred to as “premeditation”, “deception” or “dishonesty”. Whether the student intended to cheat or gain an advantage is something that the decision makers must decide. In such cases the decision makers should consider the evidence regarding intention, including the student’s own account, and record the reasons for their conclusions.
42The student’s intention may not be relevant to whether they committed the offence, but it is likely to be a relevant consideration when the penalty is decided.
43It is for the individual provider to decide how to approach the question of intent, but it should explain its approach clearly in its procedures.
CASE STUDY 5
Student brings notes into an exam: question of intent
During an exam, an invigilator sees a piece of paper under a student’s chair. The invigilator approaches the student and asks her about the piece of paper. The student says that she found it in her pocket and dropped it on the floor. The invigilator takes away the piece of paper and writes a report of the incident. The student is allowed to continue with the exam.
After the exam, the provider writes to the student explaining that it is taking disciplinary action for bringing unauthorised material into an exam. The student admits that she brought notes into the exam, and that the notes were relevant to the exam paper. She says that she had forgotten the notes were in her pocket and when she realised she dropped the piece of paper on the floor without looking at it.
The provider accepts that the student did not intend to bring the notes into the exam but concludes that the student has nevertheless brought unauthorised material into the exam. It decides that she is guilty of academic misconduct. The provider takes into account that the student did not intend to cheat, and that it was her first offence. It decides to give the
student a mark of zero for the exam but allows her to resit the exam at the next opportunity.
44Identifying suspected academic misconduct and making decisions on disciplinary cases will often, but not always, involve academic judgment. Where an academic judgment is made it should be evidence based. For example, an academic member of staff who says that the standard of an assignment is out of line with the student’s other work should be able to support that with examples from the student’s other work.
45The interpretation of academic misconduct detection software reports will involve academic judgment. It is good practice to share the academic analysis of such a report with the student as well as the report itself.
46Deciding questions of fact does not involve academic judgment.
47Decisions on the penalty to apply in academic disciplinary cases will not normally involve academic judgment.
|Questions normally involving academic judgment
|Questions of fact that do not normally involve academic judgment
|Is the standard of work so out of line with the student’s other work that it suggests cheating?
|Did the student advertise for someone to do the work for them?
|Are the ideas copied from someone else’s work?
|Did the student buy an essay online?
|Is the plagiarism major or minor?
|Did the student take notes into the examination?
|Do the student’s working notes support their case that the submitted work is theirs?
|Are the quotations marked by indented text or quotation marks?
|Are the ideas the student is referring to in such common usage that it is not plagiarism?
|Did the student intend to cheat?
48Plagiarism detection software does not identify plagiarism but will usually identify matching text from other electronic sources of work already submitted via that software. Analysing the reports produced by detection software requires academic judgment. A high similarity score does not necessarily mean that work was plagiarised and decisions about whether the sections of the text identified as matching are plagiarised involve academic judgment. For example, has the work been properly referenced, or has the similar work legitimately been submitted as part of group work?
Initial considerations and preliminary investigation
49It is good practice for providers to offer a student an initial opportunity to respond to the allegation(s) made against them. This may involve a meeting with the provider’s academic misconduct officer or other relevant staff member to discuss the allegation. The staff member should decide whether the case can be resolved at that stage or requires formal investigation. In this way straightforward cases can be dealt with without the need for formal consideration. For example, the student might admit the offence, or the allegation might be found to have been made in error. This approach gives the flexibility to deal with cases in a prompt and proportionate way. However it is not good practice to consider a disciplinary matter on an entirely informal basis without keeping any records.
50In all cases the student must be told in writing at the beginning of the process which academic offence(s) they are suspected of committing and why. The student should be given any available supporting evidence. The student should be given a reasonable opportunity to respond to the allegation and supporting evidence before a decision is made about whether they have committed the offence. If the provider brings additional or alternative charges against the student during the disciplinary process, it is important that the student is told about the new or amended allegations and offered the opportunity to respond.
51It is good practice to tell the student that concerns have been raised about their work or behaviour even if the provider decides to take no disciplinary action.
52Where a student admits to a minor offence, their admission should be taken into account when considering what penalty to apply. It is good practice to ensure that students are fully aware of the consequences of agreeing to a penalty at this stage. For example, the student should be told whether the offence will be recorded on their student record, and whether it will be taken into account in any future disciplinary or fitness to practise proceedings.
53The preliminary investigation can be conducted at local level or centrally. In either case the student should be provided with a written outcome setting out the decision reached or explaining what will happen next. The student should also have the right to appeal against a decision reached or penalty set at this stage. Where this stage is conducted at departmental level the provider should have a process for ensuring that cases are treated consistently across all departments.
The formal stage
54At the formal stage disciplinary matters are usually considered centrally by the provider.
55The procedures followed should be proportionate to the nature and complexity of the issues raised. It is good practice for a disciplinary procedure to set out clearly:
- Who the procedures apply to, and whether and in what circumstances the provider can take action against a former student;
- What process the formal stage will follow;
- Whether or in what circumstances the staff member investigating the allegation will meet with the student (such meetings are good practice in complex or serious cases);
- The circumstances in which a hearing or meeting will be held, or a panel convened;
- Who will sit on the panel;
- Whether the panel is permitted to conduct its discussions electronically;
- The process to be followed at any hearing or meeting; and
- Whether there will be a separate opportunity for the student to present additional representations about the penalty if a finding of misconduct is made.
Formal stage investigations
56The formal investigation should be carried out by a member of staff who has had no previous involvement in the case. It will not normally be appropriate to keep the name of the staff member investigating the allegation confidential. That would lack transparency and may undermine the student’s confidence in the process. Staff members charged with investigating misconduct allegations should be properly trained, resourced and supported.
57It is good practice for the investigator to meet with the student and they should do so at the earliest opportunity. The student should be given notice of the meeting and provided with sufficient information to allow them to respond to the allegation(s), and a copy of the relevant procedure at that time. The student should also be told how to access advice and support, for example from the students’ union, and who can accompany them to the meeting. It is good practice to provide the student with a note of the meeting, but it will not normally need to be a full transcript.
58It is essential to be clear about exactly what is being investigated to ensure that both the investigator and student understand the purpose and scope of the investigation and the possible outcomes. The investigator may talk to staff or other students and consider documents and other evidence.
59The investigator should produce a report based on their investigations which outlines the process followed, the information gathered, and their conclusions. The student or their representative should receive copies of the information obtained during the investigation, a copy of the investigation report and information about the next steps in the process. The student should also be made aware of who they can contact with any queries about the progress of the case.
60The investigator may refer their report to another senior member(s) of staff for a decision to be agreed, or to a disciplinary panel.
Disciplinary hearings or panel meetings
61Hearings or meetings should always be held in cases where the allegations against the student are serious, or where the potential consequences for the student are severe. Hearings or meetings should also be held when there are questions of fact to be decided.
62Panel members should be properly trained. It is good practice to include student representation on the panel where possible, although there must be appropriate separation between the representative on the panel, and those providing advice and support to students.
63The procedures should set out:
- Who can sit on a panel and who can chair it;
- That the student can be accompanied and/or be represented and by whom;
- Whether the student is permitted to attend the hearing or meeting by alternative means for example by video call);
- Whether the hearing or meeting will proceed if the student chooses not to or is unable to attend;
- The process for rearranging the date of the hearing or meeting if the student or other witness is unable to attend for good reason;
- Whether the student can be questioned directly during the hearing or meeting;
- That the student can call witnesses;
- Whether other witnesses will be called and whether the student can ask them questions directly or through the panel’s chair;
- Whether any witnesses can attend by alternative means (for example by video call);
- Who may attend the hearing or meeting and in what capacity, and whether the panel can seek support from legal advisers or other external people.
64The hearing or meeting should be arranged promptly, and the student should be given adequate notice of it. This includes informing the student of the purpose of the meeting or hearing; of their right to attend; how to access advice and support; their right to be accompanied and/or represented and what role any representative or companion is permitted to play in the hearing or meeting. If the student is permitted to attend the hearing or meeting by alternative means (for example by video call) the provider should explain how it will arrange and facilitate this.
65It is essential to provide the student in advance with information about who will be on the panel and a copy of the information to be considered.
66Fairness requires panels to be free of any bias or any reasonable perception of bias. In the context of a disciplinary process, a perception of bias might arise where the student or the person making the allegation has a close relationship with a panel member, the student has made a formal complaint about a panel member, or a panel member has been involved in previous misconduct allegations against the student. The cultural mix or diversity of the panel may be a relevant consideration in some disciplinary cases. The provider needs to consider the constitution of panels and take steps to ensure that those responsible for reaching a decision come to the matter afresh and are properly trained, resourced and supported.
67If a provider finds it difficult to convene a panel of people who have no previous involvement with the student, it can consider:
- Using staff from other departments;
- Using staff from a neighbouring provider; or
- Consulting with the student about the selection of panel members.
68Disciplinary procedures are internal to a provider and should not be unduly formal. It will not normally be necessary for a student or the provider to be legally represented at a disciplinary hearing, but it is good practice for the procedures to permit this where there are good reasons.
69A written record should be kept of any meeting or hearing, setting out who attended, a brief outline of the proceedings, and the reasons for the decisions taken, including any penalty applied. The reasons given should be sufficiently detailed to enable the student to understand the rationale for the decision and for any penalty applied. It is not normally necessary to make an oral recording or full transcript of the meeting or hearing, but it may be helpful to do so, particularly where the case is complex, or there is a significant factual dispute.
Relevance of previous offences
70A student’s previous disciplinary record will not normally be relevant to whether they have committed an offence. However, if the student has previously committed the same or a very similar offence then it may be relevant. For example, the fact that a student has previously been penalised for poor academic practice may be relevant to whether they have committed plagiarism.
71The student’s previous disciplinary record is likely to be relevant to decisions about penalty.
72If the investigator decides the previous offence is relevant it should consider at what stage this information should be shared with the decision makers to ensure it is not prejudicial to a fair
outcome being reached.
CASE STUDY 6
Previous poor academic practice
A third-year student is accused of plagiarism in their dissertation: some text has been copied from a text book without a reference. The student was penalised for poor academic practice in their second year and at that time the student had to attend a refresher session on academic misconduct. The copied text in the dissertation is not extensive and the provider considers whether the student is guilty of poor academic practice.
The provider decides that the student is guilty of plagiarism even though the copying is not extensive because of the previous incident of poor academic practice which was very similar.
73Providers should include in their procedures information on the possible penalties that can be imposed on students. It should include an indication of the penalties likely to apply in different circumstances, depending on the type of offence and its seriousness.
74The decision maker should give reasons for the penalty selected. They should explain why any lesser penalty was not suitable. It is good practice for the decision maker to go through the range of lesser penalties available, consider each, and to record that they have done so. If the misconduct is so serious that the most severe penalty is the only option, then the decision maker should explain why that is.
75Decision makers should bear in mind that some penalties for a disciplinary offence might have more serious implications for some students. For example, a penalty limiting a student’s progression may have an unintended impact on a student with a deteriorating health condition or an international student’s visa status. The decision maker should explain how they have taken these implications into account, as well as the student’s extenuating circumstances and other mitigating factors.
CASE STUDY 7
Penalty reduced because of disproportionate effect
A student is found to have brought unauthorised material into a practical exam. The Disciplinary Panel considers giving the student a zero mark and requiring him to retake the exam the following year. The student is a final year student whose visa will expire at the end of the academic year. The practical exam cannot be taken in the student’s home country. The panel decides that the effect of that penalty would be to prevent the student from graduating, which would be disproportionate to the offence in this case. It decides to allow the student to resit the exam in the summer resit period instead.
76Providers should ensure that decision makers apply penalties consistently, for example, by keeping anonymised summary records of offences, mitigating factors, and penalties applied, which decision makers can refer to.
77Students should have the opportunity to present any mitigating circumstances or factors that they believe should be taken into account. Those factors are not normally relevant to deciding whether a student is guilty of an offence (unless a provider’s procedures state otherwise). But they should normally be taken into account when deciding on the penalty if the student is found to have committed an offence. Mitigating factors might include:
- It is a first offence;
- The student admitted the offence at the earliest opportunity;
- The student has expressed remorse;
- The student was found in possession of unauthorised material in an exam but did not intend to gain an advantage;
- The student has compelling personal circumstances that affected their judgment.
Cases involving more than one student
78It is important that joint or group allegations are dealt with in a manner that is fair to all the students involved. Providers should think carefully about how formal stage processes and panels are conducted:
- Is there an equal opportunity to hear and respond? It is good practice to ensure that all students involved hear and can respond to what the others have said or evidence they have provided. For panel hearings, it is good practice to consider joint or group allegations at a single hearing with all students in attendance. Students should also be given an opportunity to speak to the panel privately so that they can raise confidential or sensitive matters relating to mitigation.
- Is there consistency of decision making? Where it is not possible or practical for matters to be considered at a single hearing, steps should be taken to ensure there is a consistent approach to all the students involved. It is good practice for the same panel to consider the case against all the students involved whether at a joint hearing or individually.
- Is there consistency of penalty? A decision should be made for each student individually, taking their particular circumstances into account. However, there should be broad consistency in the penalty given to all students who commit the same offence with similar circumstances.
79It is important to ensure that decisions are not reached by default. Providers should ensure that where cases are heard separately, a conclusion that one student has not committed the offence does not lead to the conclusion that another student must have committed it before their case has been heard.
Concluding the formal stage
80The provider should write to the student setting out the outcome of the formal stage, giving a clear explanation of, and setting out the reasons for, each decision and any penalty in straightforward language. This will help the student decide whether to appeal.
81The decision letter should also give information about:
- The student’s right to appeal;
- The grounds on which they can do so;
- The time limit for submitting an appeal;
- The appropriate procedure; and
- Where and how to access support.
82If the student does not appeal within the time limit for doing so, the provider should close the matter and notify the student in writing. It is good practice to issue a Completion of Procedures Letter at this stage if the student asks the provider to do so, but the letter should explain that the student has not completed the provider’s internal processes. The OIA publishes guidance on issuing Completion of Procedures Letters.
83The provider should keep records of disciplinary processes and their outcomes.
The appeal stage
84The student should be permitted to appeal against a decision that they have committed a disciplinary offence, and/or against the penalty imposed. The appeal should be considered by a member of staff who has not been involved at any previous stage. Providers can require a student (or their representative) to submit an appeal in writing, by email or online by completing the appropriate form.
85The appeal stage may involve a review of the formal stage, or a complete rehearing of the case. It is good practice to set out the grounds on which a student may appeal. Those grounds might include:
- That the procedures were not followed properly;
- That the decision maker(s) reached an unreasonable decision;
- That the student has new material evidence that they were unable, for valid reasons, to provide earlier in the process;
- That there is bias or reasonable perception of bias during the procedure;
- That the penalty imposed was disproportionate, or not permitted under the procedures.
86It is important to be clear about the remit of an appeal to ensure that students understand its purpose and scope. If the student’s expectations appear to exceed the scope of the appeal stage, the provider should explain this to the student as soon as possible in writing so that they understand the possible outcomes. The procedures should say whether the decision maker can overturn the outcome of the formal stage and substitute its own decision, or whether the matter needs to be referred back to the formal stage for reconsideration.
87If the student successfully appeals the outcome of an academic misconduct process, the student’s case may need to be reconsidered by a board of examiners.
88If the procedures allow for an appeal hearing then the procedures should comply with the principles set out in paragraphs 61 to 69, above.
Concluding the appeal stage
89If the appeal is not upheld, or is not permitted to proceed under the grounds of appeal, a Completion of Procedures Letter should be sent to the student within 28 days. This should include, or be accompanied by, an explanation of the decision reached and the reasons for it, in straightforward language. This will help the student decide whether to pursue the matter further.
90The decision should also advise the student about:
- Their right to submit a complaint to the OIA for review;
- The time limit for doing so;
- Where and how to access advice and support.
91The time limit for bringing a complaint to the OIA is 12 months. It is good practice to draw the student’s attention to any factors of which the provider is aware that mean that it is particularly important for the student to bring the matter to the OIA promptly (for example because the course is being discontinued).
92Where an appeal is upheld, the provider should provide the student with a written outcome that explains what action the provider will take. It is good practice to issue a Completion of Procedures Letter if requested by the student. If the outcome involves referring the case back to the formal stage for reconsideration, it is good practice to ensure that reconsideration is concluded as soon as possible and, where practicable, within the 90 calendar days timeframe.
Independent external review (OIA)
93Once the appeal stage has been completed, the student is entitled to ask the OIA, the independent ombuds service, to review their complaint about the outcome of the provider’s disciplinary process. The complaint needs to be submitted to the OIA within 12 months of the date of the Completion of Procedures Letter.