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Go8 Submission: Advice on Commercial Cheating in Higher Education

I am writing on behalf of the Group of Eight (Go8) in response to the Higher Education Standards Panel’s (HESP) advice on commercial cheating in higher education and the Government’s response to that advice.

In short, the Go8 strongly agrees with the HESP that student academic misconduct, be it in the form of plagiarism, ghost writing, cheating in examinations or other forms of academic misconduct represent a significant threat to community confidence in academic standards. Further, comments from the former Panel Chair, Professor Peter Shergold AC, that ‘…if cheating activity is not adequately constrained it has the potential to cause great damage to the domestic and international reputation of Australian higher education’ are supported by the Go8.

While it is disappointing there was a lag of some 21 months between Professor Shergold’s advice being provided to Government and a response emerging from the latter, the Go8 nonetheless welcomes the fact action appears imminent.

There are three central issues on which the Go8 would like to provide feedback and comment in respect to the Government’s proposed course of action. Go8 member universities may, of course, make their own more detailed submissions. 

Legislative solution

Based on the model implemented in New Zealand with some success, the Go8 supports this proposal from the HESP and the Government’s response to it. The Go8 agrees with Government that a strong legislative solution is warranted. This solution must send the very clear message to organisations or individuals that seek to profit from students who may wish to engage in academic misconduct; serious sanctions will be applied where an offence is proven.

The Go8 is firmly of the view that commercial enterprises of this nature present a real risk to the reputation of our universities, in both a domestic and a global context.

The proposal advanced by the HESP for model legislative measures that would be then applied in relevant State and Territory legislation is supported. The Go8 would welcome the opportunity to engage with the Government on the development of those measures.

Single regulatory authority

Consistent with the broader regulatory architecture for higher education in Australia, the Go8 supports the HESP recommendation for the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) to be the single regulatory authority with oversight in respect of these issues. Ensuring TEQSA has responsibility for oversight of contract cheating and the legislative solution proposed will align with TEQSA responsibilities under the Higher Education Standards Framework in relation to academic integrity.

Template statements for students

All Go8 universities are committed to leading the Australian higher education sector in its policies and initiative to ensure academic integrity and the high standards of its awards. We do recognise that a small minority of students may engage in deliberate or inadvertent conduct that can breach the standards of academic scholarship, and we take these instances very seriously.

In seeking to prevent these occurrences, all Go8 universities work to ensure that comprehensive resources and programs are available to all students detailing the principles and expectations of academic integrity when studying at a Go8 university. Further, students are made aware of the policies governing these issues and procedures that may apply in responding to breaches of academic integrity.

All Go8 universities are committed to accessible and transparent policies and procedures that govern academic integrity and ensuring these are publicly available for all students.

While the Go8 appreciates the perspective of the HESP in making this recommendation, it is not clear that mandating all students to sign a statement of intent or other similar document would be an effective measure. Particularly as institutions already undertake considerable work to raise awareness of the academic integrity responsibilities among students, it is not clear that adding an additional layer of activity is warranted.

There is some evidence that student academic misconduct is something of a ‘technology-led arms race’ (for example through the use of Nano wireless earpieces, and UV light pens) that can be best tackled through institutional responses including technological authentication protocols. More broadly, institutions should seek a multi-faceted approach, including:

  • robust institutional policies aimed at tackling misconduct
  • support for academics to promote the investigation of misconduct
  • appropriate punitive actions against misconduct
  • strong administrative structures and practices
  • developing an institutional culture of integrity
  • improving the education of staff and students in this area
  • strengthening assessment design for student identity verification; and
  • exploration of technological solutions.[1]

Solutions to academic misconduct should thus be viewed in the context of broader institutional responses.

While the intent might be for an integrity statement to be voluntary for institutions, it will inevitably be perceived as a Government-issued directive that all students must sign it and that may have in turn consequences that fall outside the intended direct remit of such a policy. For example, a requirement of this nature is typically – and has historically – been something that Governments seek to regulate in some form or other. Should TEQSA be designated as the single national regulator for academic integrity, then it might be assumed TEQSA will also regulate the extent to which students sign these statements.

This would seem a level of regulatory oversight and overreach that is not warranted, in a context where institutions should be incentivised and more strongly encouraged to act proactively in this area.

I would of course welcome the opportunity to discuss these issues with you directly.

Yours sincerely

VICKI THOMSON
CHIEF EXECUTIVE

[1] Slade, C, Rowland, S, McGrath, D; 2016; Addressing Student Dishonesty in Assessment: Issues paper for UQ Assessment Sub-Committee; Institute for Learning and Teaching Innovation, University of Queensland