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Towards Consistency and Transparency in Academic Integrity

Edited By Salim Razı, Irene Glendinning and Tomáš Foltýnek

This book is an outcome of the 4th International Conference «Plagiarism across Europe and Beyond» organized by Canakkale Onsekiz Mart University, Mendel University in Brno, and the European Network for Academic Integrity. The conference is co-funded by the Erasmus+ Strategic Partnerships Programme of the European Union. It aims to be a forum for sharing best practices and experiences by addressing issues of academic integrity from a wide-scope global perspective. With regards to the crucial role of ethics and honesty in academic work, universities are in need of more effective policies against infringements of academic standards. The papers in this book therefore aim to contribute to the standardization of consistent and transparent approaches to issues of academic integrity from several perspectives.

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The Student Voice: What We Know About the Students’ Perspective of Academic Integrity (Clare Johnson / Mike Reddy)

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Clare Johnson1 & Mike Reddy2

University of South Wales, UK

The Student Voice: What We Know About the Students’ Perspective of Academic Integrity

Abstract: ‘Contract cheating’ can be very difficult to detect, yet it threatens the very essence of educational integrity. Whilst detection and fair penalties are important, it would be more effective to tackle the root cause by understanding student attitudes. This paper explores existing research to determine the extent to which the student voice has been heard within surveys, research papers and other sources discussing Academic Integrity, Plagiarism and Academic Misconduct. Relevant surveys were categorised using a number of metrics; a review of written papers was performed and themes drawn out, and social media sources were assessed to establish how much student-centred content there is. Findings suggest there are very limited qualitative data and discussion directly with students about their understanding of academic integrity, reasons for ‘cheating’ and the value they give to their degree. Suggestions are made as to how the problems of contract cheating can be resolved.

Keywords: attitude, contract cheating, integrity, student voice


The face of plagiarism is changing. From the simplicity of the cut-and-paste mentality of the early Internet years (and of course, much before that, from print), there is now a much more difficult type of plagiarism to spot – which goes by the name of ‘contract cheating’, ‘academic outsourcing’ or ‘ghost writing’ (Lancaster, 2017; QAA, 2017). Academics, educational institutions and awarding bodies realise that the foundations of education are at risk as degrees may be awarded on the merit, not of the student who submits it, but on the merit of some unknown and unseen person, paid to produce an original assignment that will achieve a certain grade as specified by the student (Newton & Lang, 2016). As it is much more difficult to detect, it would be more effective to prevent these behaviours than to penalise them. However, in order to prevent them, it is first necessary to develop a good understanding of students’ opinions and perspectives on academic ← 17 | 18 → integrity, and their attitudes towards their degrees, to help us understand why they might turn to this course of action as a viable option.

Once this information is available, activities, training and other relevant options can be put in place to help students avoid cheating. Detection and fair penalties are important (Adam, 2016; Lancaster, 2017), but it would be more effective to tackle the root cause by understanding student attitudes. This research aims to ascertain whether there is currently sufficient information from the students themselves to enable us to make accurate assumptions about their views on this matter, as this will be key to changing cheating behaviours. The theoretical framework is that there is insufficient information directly from students, but this is critical to understanding student attitudes. Reviewing the literature to date will help establish what information exists from students, and how this impacts the way academics and institutions address the problem of contract cheating.

To this end, a search was carried out to explore where evidence of the student voice has been heard within surveys, research papers and other sources discussing Academic Integrity, Plagiarism and Academic Misconduct. The current and most significant works in this area to date were studied (for example, surveys by Bretag, 2014; ICAI, n.d.; McCabe, 1993; McCabe & Trevino, 1993, 1997; McCabe, Trevino & Butterfield, 1996, 1999; QAA, 2017). Early findings suggest there is a reasonable amount of discussion around what constitutes ‘cheating’ or academic misconduct in general and why students might be tempted to either bend or blatantly disregard the rules of their institution. However, there is limited discussion directly with students about their perspective of academic integrity, asking them why they ‘cheat’, what they think constitutes academic misconduct, whether they think their education sufficiently prepares them for academic careers – and indeed, whether they want an academic career or simply want to get their degree. There is some quantitative data on academic misconduct, and some qualitative data has been gathered via open-ended questions in some written surveys (Bretag et al., 2014; McCabe & Trevino, 1993; Office of Academic Integrity, 2013). However, there are only a limited number of focus groups and student interviews that have been documented (for example, Foltýnek & Glendinning, 2015; Michalska, 2014; Park, 2003). This is an area that provides rich data for our understanding of contract cheating and plagiarism from the student perspective, and as such, warrants further exploration.

The research questions are as follows:

What is the focus of existing research into academic integrity / misconduct?

What types of data already exist?

To what extent is the student voice heard in existing research? ← 18 | 19 →

How could student perceptions be more accurately gathered?

How will hearing the student voice help in reducing plagiarism, in particular, contract cheating?


An initial search for journal articles was carried out using a University database, which included access to a wide variety of scholarly databases including Academic Search Complete, Wiley, ERIC, Elsevier, Emerald, ProQuest, Springer and others. Searches were carried out for peer-reviewed journal articles employing the keywords and phrases ‘Plagiarism’, ‘Academic Integrity’, ‘Academic Misconduct’ and ‘Cheating’ using Boolean operators. The focus was on publications within the last 20 years. The primary search yielded just under 170,000 results. Due to the volume of results, a ‘subject’ search was then used to refine the results. This uses the data from the MARC 650 field, based on the National Library of Congress subject headings, and yielded a much more focused set of results of just under 4,200 publications. Because of the variety of issues discussed surrounding plagiarism, no exclusion criteria were used for fear of missing useful results.

Results were then scanned by title. Since the focus of this research is the student voice, it was possible to exclude a large number of results quickly – articles about academic misconduct in the business place and contract cheating markets, for example. Abstracts were then read to determine whether there was likely to be any information on the student voice and they were dismissed if not. References within relevant articles were also considered as a potential source of further reading, and were investigated as appropriate.

Following this, an online search was carried out using the same keywords and phrases, with the aim of identifying websites and online sources specifically focusing on this area (as opposed to articles or information on more general websites). The author made use of links within an Academic Integrity Facebook group to help identify a number of these resources. Findings were discussed with University colleagues having an interest in the field to determine whether any other sources of value had been missed.


Surveys were categorised by number of respondents, who the respondents were (e.g. faculty or student), format of questions (e.g. qualitative, quantitative, open, closed, free text, tick boxes, Likert scale) and purpose of questions (e.g. understanding of academic integrity, confessions of cheating, awareness of policy). This ← 19 | 20 → was followed by a less formal review of the author’s summary to establish how the data had been interpreted. Ten major surveys were identified as a starting point, and these are summarised in the findings section.

Written Discussions and Guidelines

Following the search on the university library database, articles were scanned for relevance and then skim read to locate any references specifically to student dialogues or quotes. An initial coding analysis was carried out as a scoping exercise to identify key themes and to identify in which articles evidence of the student voice emerged that could be developed with more detailed coding in further research. In addition, some specific documents known to the authors were reviewed, including a recent document released from the QAA, as this has considerable importance in raising awareness of contract cheating in UK HEIs (Higher Education Institutions), among others.

Internet Sources

Internet sources found were reviewed with a search for information directed towards students, or from students themselves.


There are many papers on the topic of academic misconduct, contract cheating and plagiarism, and whilst a full categorisation of all articles in this field would be useful, it would be considerably time-consuming. It is possible therefore that this paper will have missed some important studies. In addition, the phrase ‘ghost writing’ was not used within the search criteria, and this may have led to some important omissions. It would be useful to take the International Center for Academic Integrity list of the top 42 Academic Integrity articles and book chapters from 1992 to 2012 (Bertram Gallant, 2012) and revisit this with a view to systematically searching for evidence of the student voice. Combining this with further survey and article categorisation would provide a comprehensive set of data on where the student voice can be found and would ensure no major omissions have occurred.


Surveys provided a good source of quantitative information, although this was primarily factual information about why students chose to cheat, how they cheated, their views on academic integrity and appropriate punishment of cheating, etc. Some papers discussed student perspectives but did not refer directly to ← 20 | 21 → conversations or forums with students themselves. Social media sites occasionally reported on events which suggested some direct interaction with students, but this is not comprehensively documented. Full details are provided below.


Several large-scale surveys have been carried out over the last 30 years or so. These include a number of surveys carried out by Don McCabe (United States and Canada), The Academic Integrity Standards Survey (Australia), The Amber project, the IPPHEAE Project and Rebecca Awdry’s GEMS (Global Essay Mills Survey) Project, which is currently underway. A summary is given below:

Table 1: Summary of Academic Integrity Surveys


← 21 | 22 →

Don McCabe’s academic integrity survey

From the early 1990s through to 2015, McCabe and colleagues surveyed a large number of academic institutions and their students. The total number of students surveyed by the end of the survey period was in the region of 70,000 undergraduates.

A summary of the data compiled from McCabe’s research between 2002 and 2015 available at the International Center for Academic Integrity shows that over two-thirds (68%) of undergraduates who completed the survey admitted to cheating in some form or another (International Center for Academic Integrity, retrieved 2017). The surveys comprise mainly quantitative questions, with several open-ended free text questions at the end. McCabe also carried out a survey which focused on qualitative questions (McCabe et al., 1999) and reported on the student’s perspective, including observations from students such as “Focus on learning, not on grades”, and “Provide deterrents to cheating (e.g. harsh penalties)”. This appears to be the most comprehensive work on student perspectives.

Academic integrity standards survey – UNISA

In 2014, Bretag et al. (2014) published the findings of a survey of around 15,000 students in six Australian Universities. The focus of this survey was on training and understanding, asking questions about awareness of academic policies, type and timing of support given, and so on. Alongside the quantitative questions were four open-ended questions allowing text responses. Comments from students included “I think everyone has a different understanding of what academic integrity is and I think that needs to be fixed” (p. 1159), and “over my four years at [this university] I have always been unsure whether I am satisfactorily meeting the academic integrity policy with my work” (p. 1159). The report concludes that whilst students indicate a good awareness of academic integrity, applying this to their studies needs further development.

Impact of Policies for Plagiarism in Higher Education across Europe

This study (Foltýnek & Glendinning, 2015) reviewed policies on academic integrity in Higher Education across Europe. Focusing primarily on policy rather than student perspectives, the methods used to gather data included surveys and a number of focus groups and student interviews to allow for less structured discussion. A total of 3,980 students took part in the research. Written surveys included mainly Likert-style questions and multiple-choice questions with an ‘other’ option, where free text boxes were provided with the instructions ‘If you selected “other”, please specify’. Of the focus groups and interviews, 116 students ← 22 | 23 → participated across 11 of the 27 EU countries studied. The authors note the ‘very rich data’ resulting from these focus groups and interviews, which were conducted by PhD students. It is not clear how the students were selected to take part, and it would be interesting to know whether the samples were selected by the researchers, or whether they were self-selecting.

European students’ voices on plagiarism and academic practices

Michalska (2014) provides very interesting information because it is one of few papers found which does not use surveys to gather data, but instead uses only qualitative data. Michalska believed that by using semi-structured discussions ‘it was possible to build a rapport and obtain more information about attitudes and practices among focus group participants, as well as document the unheard voices of ordinary students’. The study examines students’ views and links this with nationality, using a phenomenographical approach (i.e. how people understand plagiarism depends on their own experiences and viewpoint). In particular, it looks at students’ morality and values, and provides an analysis of the Higher Education system in which students gain their knowledge. Seventeen focus groups and 2 interviews were held, and these provide extremely interesting data, including discussion on how to categorise it.

South East European project on policies for academic integrity

This research project (SEEPPAI, 2017) gathered information from six European countries and also includes focus groups and interviews. Frank and open discussions with students were carried out, and it details student attitudes, suggestions of sources (such as Facebook and toilet stalls) as a place to hire essay-writing services. The findings indicate that students would like more support from teaching staff in developing skills in academic integrity.

GEMS project – Global essay mills survey – Rebecca Awdry

The GEMS project (European Network for Academic Integrity, 2017) aims to provide a global perspective on cheating covering the Americas, Europe and Australasia. Released in October 2017, it comprises two parts. The first considers students’ own study behaviours and reasons for being at University; and why and when they used essay mills or obtained work from others (and if so, from whom). The second part asks students to discuss other students’ cheating habits, and what the outcomes for those students should be. There are a small number of open-ended questions to allow for limited qualitative data collection, but these ← 23 | 24 → are very broad in nature, such as “If you wish to say anything else on this topic, please leave a comment below”.

Written Reports and Guidelines

There are a number of other reports and guidelines that are worthy of mention. The AMBeR project (Tennant & Rowell, 2007) focuses on the range and spread of penalties given for student plagiarism gathered from over 150 UK Higher Education Institutions. The UK QAA report (Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, 2017) draws together the UK’s framework for addressing contract cheating in Higher Education, and of the 16 members of the advisory panel for this document, two are representative of the student population. The Good Practice Note (Australian Government, 2017) created by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency in Australia in conjunction with Tracey Bretag references a number of student surveys conducted across the work from 2005 through to 2010, though there is no data from the UK. In 2012, the International Center for Academic Integrity published a list of the top 42 Academic Integrity articles and book chapters from 1992 to 2012 (Bertram Gallant, 2012); an updated version of this would be useful.

Additionally, the 10 Principles of Academic Integrity for Faculty (Academic Integrity Seminar, accessed 2017) focuses on faculty members, but includes reference to students and making assessments more engaging, tuition less tedious, and so on. The focus is on virtue, honesty / dishonesty and ethics. There appears to be no discussion with students directly.

In other (people’s) words, Park (2003)

This article forms a very useful starting point for discussion. Park’s research examined seven themes relating to plagiarism including meaning and context, forms of plagiarism, reasons for plagiarising, the extent of the problem, challenges posed by digital plagiarism, the need to promote academic integrity, and student views on plagiarism. This research includes very interesting and varied points of view and demonstrates the enormity of trying to define ‘plagiarism’ from political, moral, academic, social and international standpoints. Park references a number of articles looking at student perspectives, but very few of these articles actually discuss or demonstrate conversations with students. Sutton and Huba focus on ethnicity and religious participation, with students selected using random sampling techniques (or all African-Americans). Participants were asked to complete a survey consisting of 39 Likert-style questions and 8 multiple-choice questions and there were no open-ended questions or discussions. Barnett and Dalton used ← 24 | 25 → a faculty-student survey that includes no discussion, and Payne and Nantz (1994) use long interviews to ascertain student perspectives to look at how students describe “cheating situations” – the students in this study were self-selecting, responding to advertisements in college newspapers. The work of Ashworth (1997) is also discussed, which comprised 19 interviews and provides some very rich data. It is not clear how students were selected for response, but attempts were made to ensure there was a diverse group. Additionally, Park cites the studies of Lim and See (2001) and Evans and Craig (1990); both of which are written surveys and include no discussion.

Handbook of academic integrity

Bretag’s (2016) Handbook of Academic Integrity is a reference work on plagiarism, contract cheating and international perspectives, and includes a chapter on student perspectives (Adam, 2016). This suggests that students are confused about what plagiarism is and how they can avoid it, and goes on to say that more research is needed into what students think and understand about referencing and citations, as well as becoming competent academic writers. It discusses the perceived difference between intentional and unintentional cheating and the punishment for such. The author comments that there is limited research into students’ perceptions of plagiarism.

Other Sources of Information and Social Media / Internet Sources

There are a number of useful online resources in relation to academic integrity. These include ENAI (European Network for Academic Integrity), which focuses on a top-down approach in its objectives (European Network for Academic Integrity, 2017), ICAI (The International Center for Academic Integrity, 2017), who state that membership extends to students but has no specific resources for students, and the Academic Integrity Facebook page (maintained by Gary Pavela), which has no specific resources for students. These sites would be an excellent way to promote the student voice.

International day of action against contract cheating

19th October 2017 was the second International Day against Contract Cheating. This promoted a wealth of activity with regard to ‘contract cheating’ with hashtags on twitter such as #defeatthecheat and #excelwithintegrity. ICAI tweeted “On our 2nd Day of Action Against Contract Cheating, we had 671 #defeatthecheat posts making 1,175,667 impressions!” (International Center for Academic Integrity, 2017). ← 25 | 26 →

Discussion and Recommendations

It is apparent, through analysis of the survey data and articles reviewed, that a wide variety of different foci exist within the literature. Policy, detection, attitudes, forms of plagiarism, academic perspective, student perspective and many other areas are discussed. In many ways, this is one of the difficulties of the research area, as there are many facets to this complex issue.

In terms of the types of data available, there is again a wide range, including surveys, literature reviews, HEI processes, penalties, statistics relating to recorded number of offences and policy review. Surveys primarily focus on quantitative data, though there are pockets of qualitative data, and whilst these provide a very detailed source of information, how respondents are selected, categorising the information gathered, and making use of it in a meaningful way, is less clearly documented.

There is research into different types of academic misconduct and guidance to institutions on how they could mitigate occurrences of academic misconduct. There are wide-scale surveys which ask for students’ ‘confessions’ of academic misconduct, and patches of qualitative data on why they might have engaged in cheating behaviours. But, as Lancaster (2017) suggests, students need to take leadership of this themselves and start having difficult discussions with their peers to protect the value of their award, and universities need to address the gap between academic integrity policy and practice (Bretag et al., 2014).

Focus groups and interviews undoubtedly provide very interesting data, because participants are free to explore a much wider (and possibly unexpected) range of issues. This, of course, throws up its own problems. Attempts have been made to categorise the data through arranging it under themed headings (Ashworth, Bannister, & Thorne, 1997) or using frameworks for analysis (Payne & Nantz, 1994). However, this in itself is challenging, and how the findings can be used to improve student understanding of academic integrity and thus reduce cheating is not significantly covered. Neither are studies which revisit students after a period of academic study to see if changes in behaviour can be evidenced.

To be certain of the extent of the problem, it would be useful to firstly review the incidences of academic misconduct in institutions; summarise the penalties and guidelines surrounding academic misconduct; and then carry out a series of discussions with students themselves about what would make them less likely to engage in these behaviours, how they suggest academic integrity could be better taught in universities, and what support they really need if we are to eradicate this behaviour altogether. Specifically, the author suggests carrying out focus groups with a clearly identified group of students (whether that be a whole cohort, a demographically-selected group of students, and / or students who have been ← 26 | 27 → through an academic misconduct panel, for example), recording any activities which take place throughout an academic year to help students learn about good academic behaviours and academic integrity, and then holding secondary focus groups to see if social, cultural and academic change has occurred. After all, “If we’re not doing a good enough job of supporting learning, then we need to look at what we can do better.” (Eaton, 2017, para. 16).


Understanding student perspectives is vital if we are to reduce plagiarism. Considerable research has been done into plagiarism and the many and varied issues surrounding this area; and suggestions have been made as to how it can be detected and discouraged. Detailed qualitative evidence of student perceptions on their academic journey is more limited, particularly when reviewing where students start on this journey, and what helps or hinders them in their progress. This evidence is a vital ingredient in developing a supportive, effective and successful learning experience.


Adam, L. (2016). Student perspectives on plagiarism. In T. Bretag (Ed.), Handbook of academic integrity (pp. 519–535). Singapore: Springer.

Ashworth, P., Bannister, P., & Thorne, P. (1997). Guilty in whose eyes? University students’ perceptions of cheating and plagiarism in academic work and assessment. Studies in Higher Education, 22(2), 187–203.

Bertram Gallant, T. (2012). Twenty years of academic integrity: Top articles & book chapters 1992–2012. In the International Center for Academic Integrity. Retrieved from

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1 Head of Cyber Security, Department of Computing and Maths,

2 Senior Lecturer, Department of Computing and Maths,