Professor Roger Field
12th March 2007
Lincoln University does not condone cheating and dishonest academic practice. Be in no doubt of this.
When an issue arises that strikes at the heart of academic quality it demands serious attention and consideration. Recent allegations linking dishonest academic practice to ethnicity cast doubts over what happens in the lecture theatres, tutorials and examination rooms of all universities and impugn the very integrity of the New Zealand tertiary education system.
New Zealand’s universities do not take academic quality lightly because qualifications gained must be a fair and true reflection of academic achievement. Employers, families and the institutions that a student might apply to for future study must be confident that a student has gained a particular level of knowledge and understanding in their chosen field of study.
Academic dishonesty benefits no one but it is also important to remember that universities are first and foremost places of learning. Those students who have received a penalty for academic dishonesty should be able to learn from their experience, take the penalty and resume their study. University practices are based on the tenets of common law.
In ensuring that the qualification a student receives is a true reflection of ability, the underlying assumption is that the work that the student has completed is their own work. Unfortunately, there are some students who attempt to gain credit for work that is not their own. “Cheating” is one form of dishonest academic practice but the term is an over-simplification. Tertiary institutions identify several different types of dishonest academic practice – impersonation, ghost writing, plagiarism, collusion, fabrication of data, communication by mobile phone in an examination situation – as well as the old-fashioned attempt to bring notes into the examination room.
Whatever form academic dishonesty takes, universities aim to prevent, detect and deal with it. At Lincoln University expectations are made clear to all students as part of their induction. These expectations are reinforced in the printed course outlines that students receive at the start of every paper. Further efforts to discourage dishonest academic practice include updates from the University Proctors in the student magazine and on the news section of the student intranet. Workshops delivered by the Student Learning Centre help students develop sound academic skills. Finally, an assessment strategy by course examiners is one of the most effective methods of preventing dishonest academic practice.
Despite these efforts, a small number of students attempt to receive credit for work that they have not done themselves. At this point, the attention shifts from prevention to detection. Once a lecturer becomes suspicious that assessable work is not the student’s own, they will take steps to check if the material is plagiarised. Just as the internet may have made it easier to cheat, it is also an extremely powerful tool to detect dishonesty. Examiners are also able to detect changes in use of language that may arouse suspicion and in some cases even recognise their own published work! Serious offences are referred to one of the University Proctors who considers the evidence as well as any explanation the student can provide. Sometimes these explanations are valid, if not the Proctor will determine a penalty. Other offences such as plagiarism or collusion may be handled by the examiner. Penalties can range from a reduction in the marks awarded, to no mark for that assignment, no marks for the paper, fines, community service or a referral to the Disciplinary Committee. The Disciplinary Committee is composed of both staff and student members. In extreme cases the outcome can be that the student is excluded from the University.
As Lincoln University bases its investigations on evidence of dishonest work it is extremely difficult to respond to general allegations that do not have supporting evidence. If there are members of the Lincoln University community or members of the public who know of unreported cases and can provide appropriate evidence, then I will ensure they will be investigated.
Lincoln University is subject to quality assurance requirements that align with international standards. The process used to ensure academic honesty and fair and equitable treatment of all students is subjected to external and independent scrutiny. Beyond this, the systems that are used in New Zealand are compared with academic quality assurance systems in other countries. Study opportunities at Lincoln University bring students from all over the world to New Zealand. International students have been the foundation of New Zealand’s "export education" initiatives for over ten years. A key element of the integrity of the New Zealand education process is that it is one system for all. To be anything other than that would be to diminish and destroy its very essence.
Within New Zealand, all universities undergo an academic audit on a five year cycle conducted by the New Zealand Universities Academic Audit Unit. All audit panels include at least one international representative. The most recent academic audit of Lincoln University was released in January 2007. The report was particularly positive and found no issues related to the management of academic dishonest practice. The report is available to the public at www.aau.ac.nz
Lincoln University has an equal opportunity policy of fair treatment and does not identify proven cases of dishonest academic practice by the country of origin or ethnicity of the students; to do so would undermine the openness with which we provide education for all cultures and races. The latest edition of The New Zealand Education Review carries comment from several New Zealand universities on the subject and virtually all do not collate information about whether the “cheats” are domestic or international students. Several factors and circumstances may lead to dishonest academic practice, and singling out cultural difference alone is not helpful because it is too simplistic.
As Vice-Chancellor I have responsibility for ensuring that Lincoln University’s academic processes and procedures meet the required standards. I am confident that we not only meet the required standards but we are vigilant and pro-active in assisting and supporting our students to reach the highest possible academic standard.
Professor Roger Field is the Vice Chancellor of Lincoln University