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How can leaders in higher education build an academic integrity policy?

How can leaders in higher education build an academic integrity policy?

Unpack the ways in which, as an academic leader, you can build a policy that is accessible, easy to follow, and receives positive uptake across the board.

Laura Young
Laura Young
Content Marketing Specialist

An academic integrity policy is essential for promoting a culture of accountability and intellectual growth within the educational setting. With policy at play, you can give your institution the guidance they need to engage in critical thinking, research, and ethical decision-making, extending beyond education—into the workplace and wider society (Bertram Gallant, 2008).

In this post, we’ll outline why a holistic approach to policy building is the most comprehensive solution for promoting the five fundamental values of academic integrity across your institution: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility.

We’ll then unpack the ways in which, as an academic leader, you can build a policy that is accessible, easy to follow, offers a clear framework for managing potential misconduct cases, and receives positive uptake across the board.

What is the purpose of an academic integrity policy?

With the help of a well-defined policy, you can develop a standardized system that, regardless of department or discipline, becomes a driving force steering instructors and learners into a common understanding of academic integrity. With successful implementation, your institution can strive to achieve the following goals:

Create a supportive learning experience for students

A strong policy helps students focus on learning, growing, and developing their skills on a level playing field, and evaluated based on their genuine efforts and abilities. It prevents instances where some students gain an unfair advantage by engaging in dishonest practices.

Foster a culture of trust

Policy gives your students the information they need to thrive in a healthy learning environment, where all staff and students can feel confident in the academic achievements of others, and that degrees earned from your institution carry weight in the professional world.

Prevent misconduct

Having an established policy outlines the consequences of misconduct, acting as a deterrent to students who may consider this path. This clarity helps prevent unintentional violations.

Manage misconduct consistently

You can establish a framework that enforces penalties and consequences uniformly, thereby reducing ambiguity about what defines academic misconduct. (Davis, Drinan, & Bertram Gallant, 2009).

Prepare students for the working world

In a survey of over 1,200 college students in Mexico, Guerrero-Dib et al. (2021) concluded that students who admitted to being involved in academic dishonesty also reported being involved in other dishonest activities in other contexts.

Your policy can encourage academic integrity at the university level, thus preparing students to maintain ethical standards in their future careers.

What are the components of an academic integrity policy?

Bertram Gallant (2016) asserts that institutional integrity needs nourishment and adequate strategy in order to succeed. Creating an effective academic integrity policy requires careful consideration, collaboration, and a shared commitment to maintaining ethical standards within the institution.

For your academic integrity policy to make waves, Bretag et al. (2011) believe that policy should revolve around the importance of developing a set of shared values and based on a collective commitment to academic integrity. They offer five interconnected elements central to forming a robust and easy-to-follow framework:

Accessibility of an academic integrity policy

Your policy should be easy to locate, clear and concise. Your students must be able to ascertain your institution’s expectations of them without issue, and understand what will happen if these expectations are not met.

Holden (2021) states that, “Students often demonstrate confusion about what constitutes academic dishonesty, and without a clear definition, many students may cheat without considering their behaviors to be academically dishonest.”

Without clarity, you risk creating an ineffective policy full of jargon that students—particularly your international body—will find difficult to understand.

A team approach

Creating an academic integrity policy is a holistic and organic process, requiring commitment from the entire institution to make headway. Gathering a community of academics with a shared belief that academic integrity is an educative process is key to getting your policy off the ground.

In the initial stages of implementation, you may encounter some well-meaning resistance from busy academics and staff. New policies can be overwhelming, so start with ground-up conversations.

Make space for different disciplines to come together to share their ideas about academic integrity, offering insight and continued critique, and work with them to help them understand your goals for spearheading the policy. With multiple voices contributing to the cause, you can move forward on the path of least resistance, reassured that you have representation from multiple disciplines and departments across the institution.

A clear outline of responsibilities

While it’s recommended that senior management own implementation and evaluation of an academic integrity policy, you must offer a clear outline of responsibilities for all relevant stakeholders. What do you expect from your instructors? How do you anticipate students will conduct their own learning?

Regulatory bodies such as the QAA or TEQSA conduct numerous assessments annually, with a large focus on institutional commitment to academic integrity; they expect institutions to not only demonstrate that an academic integrity policy exists, but also to offer proof of its implementation and effectiveness.

Adopting guidelines from authoritative figures can help members of your institution understand the repercussions for their institution if integrity expectations are not met. Rationale can be a huge turning point for bringing more hesitant staff on board.

Campus-wide support and systems in place

Having systems in place makes policy implementation possible. Engage the help of library staff, the IT department, as well as the student union or support center to make your rollout easier than ever.

  • Advice: Make academic skills and development resources readily available to students. Provide appropriate guidance that helps students understand the importance of proper referencing and how to achieve this depending on their subject of study.
  • Software: Employ an effective similarity checking tool, like Turnitin, to help your instructors identify skills gaps or potential misconduct. It’s essential, however, to use similarity checking tools judiciously—as a teaching tool—not solely relying on them for detecting misconduct. To ensure correct usage, offer workshops to faculty to help them understand the difference between punitive and educative usage. In a five-year retrospective study carried out by Levine and Pazdernik (2018), results showed that, “using a combination of a structured education module related to plagiarism, Turnitin … implementation of policies and procedures, and support from the institution’s writing centre resulted in significant differences in the rate of plagiarism (P < .001) over the five-year period.”
  • Awareness campaigns: Use your university’s website, emails, social media, and on-campus display boards as a means to educate inclusively and en masse about academic integrity and the consequences of misconduct. You could even enlist the help of student services for guidance on how to build a more positive relationship with your student body.
  • Learning modules: To give students the opportunity to understand academic integrity from the outset of their university career, establish a compulsory learning module. By monitoring completion of this module, you can be sure that every student has been exposed to your academic integrity policy and is aware of the standards expected of them at your institution.

Comprehensive and consistent details

Processes must be comprehensive, with a clear list of objective outcomes. Your policy should cover multiple types of breaches—including but not limited to plagiarism, collusion, self-plagiarism, contract cheating, and AI-written work—with a set of consequences and penalties should violations occur.

Bretag et al. (2011) maintains that an exemplar policy, “needs to provide an upfront, consistent message, reiterated throughout the entire policy.” By offering constant clarity at multiple stages of the policy, aimed at all stakeholders, this removes the risk of any ambiguity.

It’s worth noting that there is no linear approach to building an academic integrity policy; all components hold equal weight and will vary based on your institution's culture and requirements.

What are considered violations of an academic integrity policy?

Violations of an academic integrity policy can encompass multiple forms of plagiarism, cheating, fabrication, facilitation, and misrepresentation. Academic misconduct generally stems from one of three fundamental issues:

  • A foundational skills issue: When students don’t have a more complete and clear understanding of academic integrity, they may inadvertently engage in misconduct.
  • A conceptual understanding issue: When students have not yet acquired a nuanced understanding of academic integrity and the concepts behind its importance, increased digital access may provide ambiguous shortcut solutions.
  • An ethical issue: Students that have yet to understand the ethical components of academic integrity or lack intrinsic motivation may turn to forms of misconduct that intend to evade plagiarism detection software and are more purposeful in nature.

Each individual violation should be clearly outlined and defined to create a comprehensive academic integrity policy that establishes a clear set of expectations among instructors and students. When students have a full understanding of the behaviors considered as violations, they are more likely to avoid engaging in them. Prevention is key to maintaining a culture of academic honesty.

Discover more about emerging trends in plagiarism by sharing Turnitin’s Plagiarism Spectrum with members of your institution. Our executive brief highlights emerging patterns, pedagogical strategies and technological interventions that you can embed within your academic integrity policy.

Higher education academic integrity policy vs. secondary education academic integrity policy

Academic integrity is not just limited to higher education. In fact, to build a culture of honesty among students, ethical education should be a continuous process that evolves as students progress through different stages of their educational journey.

Both higher and secondary (or K-12) education play vital roles in shaping an individual’s ethical perspectives and behaviors, albeit with different levels of complexity and focus.

Students in higher education are likely to have reached a level of maturity that allows them to engage in more complex ethical dilemmas and discussions, and make responsible decisions based on their own values and principles. However, sometimes, students arrive in the higher education setting lacking these prerequisites. For international students, this can sometimes be due to cultural differences in what constitutes academic dishonesty.

Conversely, secondary students are still developing their decision-making skills and ethical understanding. An academic integrity policy at the secondary level tends to involve much simpler concepts, focusing on only a select few of the fundamental values of academic integrity. Secondary schools expect their students to develop a basic understanding of morality, kindness, and social responsibility in secondary education, with an emphasis on building a foundation for ethical behavior and character development.

One of the largest disparities between higher and secondary education is parental involvement. Autonomy and personal responsibility is a given in higher education, where educators expect students to take ownership of their learning and academic work, and be aware of the consequences attached to academic dishonesty. Higher education institutions are more likely to conduct a formalized investigative and appeals process due to the severity of potentially awarding a degree to a student who has not honestly earned it.

Secondary students, however, are under closer monitoring by parents and staff. Generally, if cheating occurs, the school’s code of conduct or honor code reinforces integrity standards. Simpler procedures such as adult intervention can contribute towards misconduct prevention, setting students up for success when they progress into further education or the workplace.

How do academic integrity policies differ globally?

Different cultures have varying attitudes toward academic integrity, and by default, academic misconduct. This can invoke a sense of confusion, particularly for international students who have learned one definition of academic integrity in their own country, only for their country of study to supersede it.

In some collectivistic cultures, educational institutions may encourage collaboration on assignments; while other cultures may consider this practice a form of cheating. Such vast disparities between cultures tend to trigger and influence the way in which institutions formulate and enforce an academic integrity policy, in an effort to standardize academic integrity for all students.

Additionally, the use of technology in education can impact how and to what extent academic integrity is upheld. Some countries and cultures may invest more in tools that aim to deter cheating, such as similarity checking software or custom browsers that lock down the testing environment.

Some cultures, like South East Asia, place a strong emphasis on rote memorization, whilst others encourage critical thinking and creativity. This can result in expectations for proper citation and plagiarism varying widely. What one country considers as common knowledge might require citation in another.

It’s worth noting that these cultural differences in academic integrity are not absolutes, and there can be variation even within one country's educational system—for example, expectations differ depending on subject, how the country is governed (i.e. it may be split into multiple territories), or even the institution’s access to funding.

In short, it's always wise to ask your students to familiarize themselves with your institution’s academic integrity policy at the point of enrollment to ensure their learning habits comply with the standards of the institution.

Overview: How to build an academic integrity policy

Establishing a culture centered around academic integrity is a unique journey for each institution. As an academic leader, you too can create an academic integrity policy centered around the five interconnected elements, as defined by Bretag et al. (2011). And with a solid foundation in place, you can build on this framework with care and diligence, according to the unique needs of your institution.

An academic integrity policy is far easier to create and more effective when informed by the experiences and best practices of others. Be sure to involve policy and subject experts, as well as faculty and staff, from the outset to gather insight and buy-in.

With a robust academic integrity policy at your disposal, your institution will have the tools it needs to shape exemplary students who graduate with honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility at their core, preparing them for the working world and beyond.