Fighting against cheating in higher education: punishment is not enough


The shift of higher education to digital, greatly accelerated by the pandemic and its health constraints, raises major ethical issues in terms of cheating and plagiarism. However, “we cannot solve today’s integrity problems with the tools of the past. The law and university regulations are not adapted”, as Michelle Bergadaà affirmed on the occasion of the labeling by the National Foundation for the teaching of business management (FNEGE) of her book The urgency of academic integrity , coordinated with Paulo Peixoto.

But how do you create and reinforce a culture of academic integrity in higher education? What does the research tell us about this? Donald McCabe and his colleagues devote an entire chapter to this in their excellent Cheating in college , where they insist on the need to align the various systems in place. In this, they echo the book by Michelle Bergadaà and Paulo Peixoto, or even Craig Scanlan for whom this alignment requires “a global strategy promoting a culture of academic integrity”.

Formal systems

Policies against cheating and plagiarism generally focus on the formal aspects of procedures and sanctions, leading (too) often to what we have elsewhere called a “policing angle” . However, studies show that disciplinary councils, codes of honor and other internal regulations have only limited effectiveness if they are not linked to other mechanisms.

In the formal aspects, we also find the central role of those in charge in the administration, who must embody and put into practice the policies and codes that are adopted. And the whole must be logically structured around clear and explicit values. These must then feed into the process of recruiting and training students, but also teachers and administrative staff. In short, particular attention must be paid to the integrity of the players as much as to that of the procedures.

Finally, the decision-making process, responsibilities and possible sanctions must be explained to show its logic and transparency. The consequences of problematic behaviors must be formalized in advance, proportionate and said to be “restorative”.

The importance of the overall coherence of these formal systems may seem obvious, but studies show that in practice these systems are often poorly coupled, and sometimes even contradictory. However, each inconsistency weakens the other processes. In addition, an overall consistency makes it possible to reinforce an “invisible curriculum” which transmits principles and values ​​to students in the amphitheatres as well as between courses.

Informal systems

That being said, “formal ethics and compliance programs represent only the tip of an organization’s ‘ethical infrastructure’,” note Max H. Bazerman and Ann E. Tenbrunsel . Hence the insistence of Donald McCabe and his colleagues on linking formal systems to informal norms and other rituals and myths that circulate within each institution of higher education.

They underline in particular the importance of idols, heroes and other role models that are shared by students, but also by their teachers and administrative staff. When presentations and talks glorify entrepreneurs and businessmen without highlighting certain problematic ethical aspects of their careers, teachers must complete the portraits. Similarly, when certain personalities are invited for conferences, special attention must be paid to the values ​​they convey.

If some cases are clear (the copy-paste without quotation marks or reference), the territory of plagiarism is above all a vast shade of gray. Image by Gerd Altmann /Pixabay , CC BY[/caption]

Without systematically blackening the picture, it is essential to understand that all courses in business ethics and corporate social responsibility will never be able to completely counterbalance the influence of a society and of the media which praise certain figures and certain myths despite their sometimes problematic. It is the role of higher education to provide students with the keys to ethical and critical reading to take a step back from these trends.

Where to start ?

All players in higher education tend to share the observation that academic integrity is only rarely the central concern of their institutions. Certainly, all of them have rules and regulations relating to fraud or cheating, and many of us regularly sit on juries, committees and other disciplinary boards.

However, a rigorous inventory involving all the stakeholders would probably rather show a global architecture where the couplings are generally loose – at best. These decouplings could explain “the inability of people and systems to overcome the challenges of integrity. Because these two orders do not cease to transfer the responsibility of the real assumption of responsibility for the breaches of integrity”.

However, by arming ourselves with “determination, patience and perseverance”, we can collectively and progressively develop and maintain a culture of academic integrity through a comprehensive and coherent strategy.

To bring out this still precarious alignment, the involvement of all actors and stakeholders is absolutely necessary. Donald McCabe and his colleagues would agree with Michelle Bergadaà and Paulo Peixoto:

Let’s stop once and for all segmenting the academic population between students on one side and researchers on the other! Training, in this time of profound change, concerns teachers, librarians, those responsible for ethics committees, legal services as well as students. »

Training, but also the involvement and collaboration of all higher education stakeholders, both upstream and downstream of the construction of a global strategy, is necessary to strengthen a culture of academic integrity in our institutions.

Author Bio: Yoann Bazin is Professor of Business Ethics at EM Normandie