Challenging process

Smita Jamdar

Yesterday’s Independent on Sunday carried a piece about the numbers of students caught cheating at universities. 45,000 over the last three years, it seems, with last year’s figure being higher than preceding years, despite the efforts of universities to educate their students as to what is and what is not acceptable academic practice. Of course, the numbers and particularly the latest increase may reflect better detection and reporting rates rather than greater prevalence, which would make this a good rather than a bad news story. Nevertheless, the article carries the grim prediction that a combination of increased tuition fees and the importance of a good degree in a fiercely competitive job market will lead to more attempts to cheat, whilst even with the latest technology some cheating will be so sophisticated that it will be impossible to detect.

In a future where there are more reasons to cheat, and more ways of cheating, there is potentially a third area of difficulty: students will have even greater reason to challenge the processes used to take action against suspected misconduct. Until now, students have been surprisingly willing to accept disciplinary and academic sanctions imposed following less than optimal procedures. Although complaints to the OIA about academic misconduct decisions are increasing, the numbers remain small given the overall numbers found guilty of cheating. But if the IoS is right then these too will increase, as might court action.

So universities and the many more FE colleges who will be involved in delivering HE in the future need to ensure that their procedures are capable of dealing robustly with, possibly, a higher number of cheating cases which may also be more complex in nature. Common problem areas we have experienced to date include:

  • unclear definitions of what constitutes cheating;
  • the thorny question of whether intent is necessary;
  • basic procedural flaws such as not sharing all the evidence with the affected student, or a failure properly to separate the prosecution from the decision-making function; and
  • disproportionality/lack of coherence in sanctions for cheating.

The OIA and the courts are likely to continue to recognise the absolute need to ensure that cheats do not prosper, but they are not likely to be prepared to overlook lack of due process to do so. To avoid the galling prospect of challenges succeeding due to process irregularities, a spot of procedural spring-cleaning may just be the order of the day.

Smita Jamdar
Partner and Head of Education
For and on behalf of SGH Martineau LLP
DD: 0800 763 1332
M:  07909 925946
F: 0800 763 1732
International DD: +44 870 763 1332

From → General Interest

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