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Academic Integrity

Abstract and Keywords

Academic integrity is an interdisciplinary concept that provides the foundation for every aspect and all levels of education. The term evokes strong emotions in teachers, researchers, and students—not least because it is usually associated with negative behaviors. When considering academic integrity, the discussion tends to revolve around cheating, plagiarism, dishonesty, fraud, and other academic malpractice and how best to prevent these behaviors. A more productive approach entails a focus on promoting the positive values of honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage (International Center for Academic Integrity, 2013) as the intrinsically motivated drivers for ethical academic practice. Academic integrity is much more than “a student issue” and requires commitment from all stakeholders in the academic community, including undergraduate and postgraduate students, teachers, established researchers, senior managers, policymakers, support staff, and administrators.

Keywords: academic integrity, academic ethics, academic misconduct, cheating, higher education, plagiarism


It almost goes without saying that academic integrity is important. More than important, academic integrity is critical to every aspect of the educational enterprise, from the moment a child embarks on formal learning in preschool, through to postdoctoral fellowships, internationally published research, and everything in between. Academic integrity is the cornerstone of ethical academic practice and is premised on a set of values most commonly articulated by the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI) as honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility (Fundamental Values Project ICAI, 1999). In 2013 the ICAI added the additional virtue of courage, in recognition of the need for all members of the academic community to act courageously to uphold the principles of academic integrity.

Academic integrity also has significance beyond the hallowed halls of academe. Data from one Australian survey (n=15,304) demonstrated that the overwhelming majority of students (95.6% of postgraduate research students and 92.1% of undergraduate students) agreed with the statement “academic integrity has relevance to my life or work experience outside the university” (Mahmud & Bretag, 2013, p. 437). In addition, there is general consensus (although only limited empirical evidence) that there is a correlation between students’ self-reported academic integrity breach behavior at university and unethical conduct in professional practice (Lawson, 2004; Nonis & Swift, 2001; Sims, 1993).

Defining Academic Integrity

Researchers from around the world most often cite the ICAI’s definition of academic integrity:

The International Center for Academic Integrity defines academic integrity as a commitment, even in the face of adversity, to six fundamental values: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, responsibility, and courage. From these values flow principles of behavior that enable academic communities to translate ideals to action.

(ICAI, 2013)

An Australian research project on academic integrity developed a Plain English Definition that underscored the broader aspects of academic integrity beyond the immediate responsibilities of students:

Academic integrity means acting with the values of honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility in learning, teaching and research. It is important for students, teachers, researchers and professional staff to act in an honest way, be responsible for their actions, and show fairness in every part of their work. All students and staff should be an example to others of how to act with integrity in their study and work. Academic integrity is important for an individual’s and a school’s reputation.

(Exemplary Academic Integrity Project, 2013)

In a recent review of the literature, MacFarlane, Zhang, and Pun (2014) defined academic integrity as the “values, behaviour and conduct of academics in all aspects of their practice” while noting that the term has often been misappropriated to refer to the conduct of students, particularly in relation to behaviors such as plagiarism and cheating (2014, p. 340).

Early Research on Academic Integrity

Academic integrity—or rather its polar opposite, academic dishonesty—as a topic of research has been in the spotlight, particularly in the United States since the early 1960s, following William Bowers’s seminal survey research on students’ cheating behaviors. Based on responses from 5,422 students from 99 U.S. colleges, Bowers (1964) reported that at least half of the respondents had engaged in some form of academic dishonesty. Thirty years later, Don McCabe teamed up with Bowers to revisit the data and conduct comparable research. The results, based on McCabe’s data set of responses from 6,096 students from 31 U.S. colleges (McCabe, 1992; McCabe & Bowers, 1994), found no overall increase in students’ self-reported cheating behaviors, although there had been a rise in unpermitted collaboration on written assignments. McCabe’s research led directly to the establishment of the Center for Academic Integrity (later renamed the International Center for Academic Integrity) and he became the most prolific and most widely cited researcher in the field. Renowned for reporting on large data sets of North American students’ self-reported cheating behaviors, McCabe was a strong advocate for the establishment of honor codes to assist students to develop an intrinsic motivation not to cheat as part of an institutional culture of integrity.

McCabe continued to publish and influence the growing academic integrity research community until his death in 2016. Scores of papers reported on students’ motivations (McCabe & Trevino, 1995), individual, peer, disciplinary, and contextual influences on cheating behavior (McCabe & Pavela, 1998; McCabe & Trevino, 1993; McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 1996), the role of honor codes (McCabe & Trevino, 1993; McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 1996), practical institutional solutions to address cheating (McCabe, 2005; McCabe & Katz, 2009), as well as the effect of students’ cheating behavior on professional practice (McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 1996). In 2012, with colleagues Trevino and Butterfield, McCabe published the influential Cheating in College: Why Students Do It and What Educators Can Do About It. McCabe’s final contribution was a summary of his body of work for the Handbook of Academic Integrity (2016), with the conclusion that honor codes are “one of the most effective strategies to reduce cheating in academia and the larger society” (McCabe, 2016, p. 188). The McCabe survey continues to be administered by the International Center for Academic Integrity at high schools and colleges in North America and elsewhere. This is done as a means of demonstrating the levels of cheating occurring on campus and the concomitant need to establish policies and practices to address the problem.

From the earliest work by Bowers, and the ground-breaking and influential work of McCabe and colleagues, research on academic integrity in North America has tended to focus on four main questions: (1) Is cheating a problem? (a question usually answered by asking students to self-report if and how often they cheat) (2) Who is cheating? (gender, discipline, age, cultural or linguistic background, etc.) (3) Why do students cheat? (4) What should be done to prevent cheating/breaches of academic integrity? The literature is awash with numerous recommendations for how to ameliorate what is now accepted as an endemic problem. Unsurprisingly, given McCabe’s firm belief that honor codes provide the strongest antidote to the problem, academic integrity research and practice in North America has tended to focus on the moral development of the student and the values underpinning academic work.

However, regions outside of North America, while heavily influenced by the work of McCabe and colleagues, have developed different emphases. In the United Kingdom, a preoccupation with students’ writing practices, particularly a perceived rise in students plagiarizing from the Internet in the early years of the new millennium, led to a national movement to adopt the text-matching software, Turnitin, in virtually all higher education institutions. The focus was less on the moral development of the student and more on students’ responsibilities to avoid plagiarism, coupled with policies to deter and penalize plagiarism when it occurred (Thomas & Scott, 2016). Similarly, the Impact of Policies for Plagiarism Across Europe Project (IPPHEAE 2010–2013), which surveyed twenty-seven member states of the European Union, focused particularly on student plagiarism.

Australian researchers followed a similar trajectory and timeframe to the United Kingdom, with the first conference on the topic of “educational integrity” in 2003. While also initially preoccupied with preventing and responding to plagiarism, by 2010 nationally funded research on educational/academic integrity in Australia had refocused attention on the role of institutional policy to foster a culture of integrity. The Academic Integrity Standards Project (2010–2012) identified the “five core elements” of exemplary academic integrity policy—access, approach, responsibility, support, and detail, all centered around an institutional commitment to a culture of integrity. The subsequent Exemplary Academic Integrity Policy Project (2013) developed a conceptual model for implementing academic integrity policy based on six aspects, including regular review of policy and process, the critical role of academic integrity champions, academic integrity education for all stakeholders (including students, teachers, and administrative staff), student engagement, robust breach decision-making systems, and record keeping for evaluation and continuous improvement (Bretag & Mahmud, 2016, p. 473). Unlike the student-centric research in the United States, most of the research in the Australian context has focused on academic integrity as a complex, multistakeholder issue that requires nuanced policy coupled with education for both staff and students.

As Bretag (2016) has noted, although there has been little research on the topic of plagiarism and/or academic integrity in Asia, researchers and practitioners in that region are beginning to take a burgeoning interest and are well placed to benefit from the substantial research undertaken elsewhere. Early investigations are underway, as represented by recent work by Indonesia (Siaputra and Santosa, 2016), Malaysia (Cheah, 2016), India (Mohanty, 2016), China (Chen and Macfarlane, 2016), and Japan (Wheeler, 2016).

This chapter provides an overview of the research on academic integrity since the early work of Bowers and the way that academic integrity is currently being addressed by researchers and practitioners in different contexts. The chapter also comments on the recent rise of contract cheating and how this has changed the academic integrity research landscape.

Breaches of Academic Integrity

A breach of academic integrity can be defined simply as any behavior that undermines the values, norms, and practices of academic integrity. In more concrete terms, it includes but is not limited to plagiarism, cheating in exams or assignments, impersonation in exams, collusion, theft of another student’s work, sabotage of another student’s learning/assessment, paying a third party for assignments, downloading whole assignments (or parts of assignments) from the Internet (including file-sharing sites), falsification of data, misrepresentation of records, and fraudulent research and publishing practices. The morally neutral term “breach” tends to be used in the Australian context, while in the United Kingdom, the more common term is “unfair practice.” The influence of the values movement is evident in North America, where terms such as “violation,” “infringement,” “cheating,” and “academic dishonesty” appear to be used interchangeably.

As already discussed, plagiarism has been a central concern and one that initiated much of the early interest and research in the field of academic integrity, particularly in relation to the rise of the Internet in the 1990s. In the United States, Howard (1995, 1999, 2001), investigated and articulated plagiarism as a developmental writing practice requiring a pedagogic response, rather than a moral issue requiring a juridical response, and she was instrumental in establishing an alternative to the prevailing view of the student as a “cheater.” Tricia Bertram Gallant’s work, while not shying away from the term “cheating,” has always focused on academic integrity as a teaching and learning issue (Bertram Gallant, 2008). More recently, Lang (2013) has valorized classroom practices as the key to addressing student cheating. The most influential publication on plagiarism in the United Kingdom was Jude Carroll’s (2002) teaching resource, A Handbook for Deterring Plagiarism in Higher Education. This slim volume had immense impact on understandings of plagiarism and how best to respond to it in the Australian context, particularly following Carroll’s 2004 keynote address at the Inaugural Asia-Pacific Conference on Educational Integrity.

Is Student Cheating A Problem?

Research on academic integrity has been strongly influenced by the early work of Bowers (1964), and later McCabe and colleagues (1994, 1995, 1997, 1998) and McCabe (1992, 2005), particularly the way these researchers “set the stage” in terms of methodology. Generally speaking, most of the highly cited work on academic integrity around the world has been based on broad surveys, which have asked students to self-report their cheating behaviors (see Table 1). None of these surveys have contradicted Bowers’s or McCabe’s findings, in that a large proportion of students in every survey report engaging in one or more “questionable” behaviors (such as copying or using unauthorized notes in an exam). The percentage of self-reported cheating does vary, however, from 46% (Smyth & Davis, 2004) to 67% (McCabe, 1992), and 72% (Brimble & Stevenson-Clarke, 2005), depending on how “cheating” is defined in the research and how students have been asked to report their behavior. For example, in some surveys, students are asked whether they have ever engaged in various forms of cheating, which may be taken to include elementary, secondary and tertiary education. In other surveys, students are asked whether they have cheated at their current university, or within a specified time period. Table 1 provides an overview of some of the main student surveys conducted around the world.

Table 1. Student Surveys of Self-Reported Cheating




Number of Respondents


Brimble and Stevenson-Clarke




Marsden, Carroll, and Neill




De Lambert, Ellen, and Taylor

New Zealand



Lin and Wen




Kidwell and Kent




Teixeira and Rocha




Stephens, Romakin, and Yukhymenko



Source: Bretag et al. (2014, p. 1152).

While the proportion of students who admit to some form of academic integrity breach is generally high, the percentage of students who report having plagiarized varies from as low as 19% (Scanlon & Neuman, 2002), to 26% (Ellery, 2008), 66% (Franklyn-Stokes & Newstead, 1995) and 81% (Marsden, Carroll, & Neill, 2005). Rates of plagiarism in postgraduate work also vary wildly from 5% (Segal et al., 2010) to 27% (McCullough & Holmberg, 2005) and 42.6% (Gilmore et al., 2010). These seemingly erratic results should be considered in light of the fact that both teachers and students struggle to define and identify plagiarism (Fishman, 2009). In two separate studies, Roig (1997) asked students to identify plagiarized text and found that 40–50% of the students did not complete the exercise correctly. Roig (2001) found professors were also inconsistent in the way that they viewed plagiarism and how they completed a paraphrasing task; while Glendinning (2016) has reported that 19% of teachers in a large European study were not able to identify plagiarism.

In 2010 the Australian Office for Learning and Teaching funded the Academic Integrity Standards Project, and for the first time, a large national survey (n = 15,304) was conducted that aimed to gather information about students’ understandings of academic integrity and how they would like to be educated about it (rather than once again confirming that students do cheat and plagiarize). The results of that research were published in Bretag et al. (2014). Key findings highlighted two cohorts of students requiring targeted support with academic integrity education. International students reported a lower understanding of academic integrity and therefore expressed less confidence in how to avoid an academic integrity breach. Somewhat surprisingly, postgraduate researchers, regardless of educational or cultural background, expressed the least satisfaction with the information they had received about how to avoid an academic integrity breach (Bretag et al., 2014, p. 1150). In the same year, other Australian researchers published results from a survey of 3,405 students at one university that investigated students’ understandings of plagiarism policy (Gullifer & Tyson, 2014). The key findings were that only half of the participants at the university had read the plagiarism policy and confusion remained about the meaning and behaviors associated with plagiarism (Gullifer & Tyson, 2014, p. 1202).

Also around this time (2010–2013), Glendinning and colleagues conducted the Impact of Policies for Plagiarism in Higher Education Across Europe project, which aimed to explore how academic integrity generally, and plagiarism specifically, was understood and managed in 27 European Union countries (Glenndinning, 2016). The results have been reported in numerous forums and largely concurred with research elsewhere, showing that both students and staff struggle to understand and agree on the meanings and practices of academic integrity (Foltynek & Rybicka, 2013; Foltynek et al., 2014; Glendinning et al., 2013; Glendinning, 2014).

Who Cheats?

The work of Crown and Spiller (1998), and Whitley (1998) who conducted a review of 25 years and 26 years, respectively, of empirical research on collegiate cheating are widely cited in the literature. Crown and Spiller (1998) summarized the key factors that affect a student’s decision to engage in academic integrity breaches, including age, gender, academic discipline, academic ability, and the role of honor codes. Whitley (1998) provided a similar summary of factors associated with cheating, including age, employment status, gender, academic aptitude, ability, beliefs and behavior, grade and learning orientation, and extra-curricular activities. More recently, Australian researcher Brimble (2016) grouped the individual characteristics that indicate whether or not a student is likely to engage in an academic integrity breach into age, gender, language proficiency/cultural background, and Internet usage/technology. The main factors identified by Crown and Spiller (1998), Whitley (1998), and Brimble (2016) are discussed in the following sections.


Of the 18 studies reviewed by Crown and Spiller (1998) that reported on the influence of gender on cheating behavior, six concluded that males cheat more than females, two concluded that females cheat more than males, and 10 studies showed that there was no difference between the genders. The studies reviewed by Whitley (1998) were similarly mixed. Whether gender is a predictor of cheating behavior remains hotly contested with research results continuing to be varied. Based on Australian self-report data, Marsden et al. (2005) and Kremmer et al. (2007) found that female students are less likely to cheat than male peers; and summarizing 15 years of North American data collection, McCabe (2016) concluded that “cheaters tend to be males majoring in business or science” (p. 193). The preponderance of self-report data appears to be supported by Bertram Gallant, Binkin, & Donohue (2015) research that investigated actual reports of students cheating at one American university and found that female students were significantly less likely to be reported for cheating than male students.


There is some evidence, although this is not without ambiguity, that younger students are more likely to cheat than older students (Brimble, 2016, p. 376; Whitley, 1998). Marsden et al. (2005) concluded that male students under 25 reported higher levels of cheating and plagiarism, although paradoxically, “First-year students were significantly less likely to cheat than students from all other years of study, and less likely to plagiarise than all other year levels except postgraduate” (Marsden et al., 2005, p. 6). Kremmer, Brimble, and Stevenson-Clarke (2007) found that younger students tend to engage in more collaborative cheating than their older peers. However, in their review of seven studies that reported various results regarding the influence of age on cheating behavior, Crown and Spiller (1998) were unable to provide a definitive conclusion about whether younger or older students are more likely to cheat. Certainly, despite perceived wisdom to the contrary, postgraduate students (who tend to be older) are just as likely to engage in unethical academic practice as undergraduates (Gilmore et al., 2010; Marsden, Carroll, & Neill, 2005).

Academic Discipline

Researchers have long noted a difference in the propensity to cheat, depending on the field or discipline of study. In 1993 McCabe and Trevino reported differences in dishonest behaviors among students according to discipline, particularly noting that business students self-report the most cheating, followed in order by engineering, science, and the humanities. The likelihood of business students cheating more than non-business students has been supported by other studies (McCabe & Trevino, 1995; Smyth & Davis, 2004). Marsden et al. (2005) found that engineering students were more likely to cheat than students from all the other disciplines in the study; and Bertram Gallant et al. (2015) concluded that computer science, economics, and engineering are high-risk majors in relation to cheating. In contrast to most research, Kremmer et al. (2007, p. 1) found “no persuasive evidence that accounting students behave any differently to their non-accounting peers with respect to cheating.”

Academic Ability

Of the 14 papers reviewed by Crown and Spiller (1998) 12 studies reported that students with a lower GPA cheat more, a finding supported by McCabe and Trevino (1997) and to some extent by Whitley (1998). Marsden et al. (2005) also reported that “less learning orientation and more goal orientation were associated with higher rates of cheating” (2005, p. 7; see also Whitley, 1998) and that higher learning orientation was associated with less of all three types of dishonest behavior under investigation, including cheating, plagiarism, and falsification (Marsden et al., 2005, p. 9). Bertram Gallant et al. (2015) also reported that students with significantly lower GPAs were more likely to be reported for cheating. However, numerous studies have shown that high-achieving students are also under pressure to cheat in their ongoing quest to score high grades (Brimble, 2016; McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 1996).

Honor Codes

Given the extensive influence of McCabe and colleagues’ work, the effect of honor codes has been researched as a potential deterrent to student cheating in the United States. Crown and Spiller (1998) reviewed seven papers that investigated the influence of formal honor codes or comparable ethics training and reported that only one non-McCabe paper had found a negative correlation between honor codes and cheating. The other papers on ethics and values training found no effect on cheating behavior. In fact, the variable with the most direct influence on cheating behavior, according to Crown and Spiller’s (1998) review, was peer culture, a factor also identified by McCabe, Trevino, and Butterfield (2001); McCabe (2005); and Whitley (1998).

It should also be noted that the honor code, as described by McCabe (2005, p. 10) consists of

strategies that generally mandate unproctored exams, the use of some form of pledge that students are asked to sign stating they have not cheated on a particular piece of academic work, a student majority on the hearing board which hears cases of alleged cheating, and . . . a requirement or expectation that students will report any peers they may see cheating.

This is a U.S.-centric approach to academic integrity and has not been widely adopted in other countries, with the exemption of some Latin American countries (Mexico, Colombia, and Chile).

International Students/Language Proficiency

Nearly 20 years ago, educational researchers John Biggs and Catherine Tang reminded aspiring teachers that students need to be fluent in the language of instruction if they are to demonstrate their learning in that language (Biggs & Tang, 1999, p. 242). Despite general agreement with this transparently obvious and common-sense advice, the cultural and linguistic diversity of most higher education classrooms in Western settings means that teachers can no longer be confident that all students have the requisite English language to understand discipline content or to demonstrate their learning. What has become apparent in the academic integrity literature is that students for whom English is an Additional Language (EAL) have unique challenges in meeting the requirements of English-based instruction. This potentially impacts on those students’ propensity to engage in academic integrity breaches such as plagiarism (see also Bertram Gallant et al., 2015).

Numerous studies have highlighted that plagiarism is a particular concern for EAL students. Marshall and Garry (2006) concluded that EAL students are significantly more likely to have engaged in serious forms of plagiarism (83%) than non-EAL students (65%); Vieyra, Strickland, and Timmerman (2013) reported that 47% of EAL graduate students had plagiarized in their research proposals, in comparison with 16% of non-EAL students; and Pecorari (2003) found that 76% of EAL graduate students had plagiarized at least one passage in a writing sample. Predictably, given that most international students in Australian higher education speak English as an Additional Language, Bretag et al. (2014) found that international students were more than twice as likely as Australian domestic students to convey a lack of confidence in how to avoid an academic integrity breach and twice as likely to have been reported for a breach. Research in the United States by Bertram Gallant et al. (2015) supports this finding, with international students at one American university found to be “more than twice as likely to be reported for cheating than those who were not” (2015, p. 223).These findings perhaps go some way to explaining the preponderance of self-reported cheating in disciplines such as business and engineering, where international students are over-represented.

Interestingly, and in contrast with nearly every study to date on this topic, Kremmer et al. (2007) found that international students in the Australian context were less likely to report having cheated in assessment tasks generally. However, this group of students were significantly more likely than their Australian peers to report cheating in examinations (as opposed to take-home assessment tasks).

The recent large study by Bretag et al. (2017) based on over 14,000 responses by students at eight Australian universities, found that while EAL students are two to three times more likely to self-report engaging in cheating, their attitudes about the “wrongness” of a range of cheating behaviors was comparable to their domestic counterparts. While not disputing the critical role of students’ previous educational and learning experiences, the research has contradicted the often asserted and arguably “simplistic view that International students cheat more due to culturally-based values and attitudes towards cheating” (Bretag et al., 2017).

Internet Usage/Technology

Almost from the beginning of mainstream use of the Internet (around the mid-1990s), educators and researchers have been concerned about the potential impact on academic integrity. This concern was well summarized by Scanlon and Neuman (2002, p. 374):

university administrators, faculty, and staff should be concerned about the impact of the Internet in shaping a new generation of students’ conception of what does and does not constitute fair use of the countless texts so readily available at the click of a mouse.

Numerous other commentators addressed the specific role played by the Internet in relation to writing practices, particularly plagiarism (see, e.g., Austin & Brown, 1999; Lathrop & Foss, 2000; Howard, 2007; Park, 2003; Sutherland-Smith, 2008). Scanlon and Neuman (2002) surveyed 689 students from nine U.S. colleges and universities to explore the effect of the Internet on students’ self-reported plagiarism. The findings, while not dramatic in relation to other surveys on student plagiarism, are interesting in light of the recent perceived rise in “contract cheating” (where students outsource work to a third party). Nineteen percent reported sometimes “copying and pasting” information from the Internet, and 9.6% reported doing this often or very frequently. In relation to what the authors described as “more egregious forms of plagiarism,” the numbers were lower but still alarming: copying an entire paper (5.4% sometimes, 3.2% often/very frequently), requesting a paper to submit for grading (8.3% sometimes, 2.1% often/very frequently), and purchasing a paper from an essay mill (6.3% sometimes, 2.8% often/very frequently) (Scanlon & Neuman, 2002, p. 380).

In another study, Molnar and Kletke (2012) explored the impact of Internet experience on students’ acceptance of cheating behaviors. Based on responses from 884 students at two U.S. colleges between 2009 and 2011, the authors found Internet usage does have an effect on some forms of cheating. For ungraded tasks, students who reported spending less than 10 hours per week online were less likely to cheat. However, for graded tasks, results suggested that there was no significant difference between students, regardless of how much time they spent on the Internet (Molnar & Kletke, 2012, p. 207).

This is an important finding, and goes some way to alleviate ongoing concerns about the impact of the Internet on writing practices such as plagiarism in assessment tasks. On the other hand, contract cheating, as a more egregious integrity breach and form of academic fraud, requires further investigation. This will be discussed in more detail at the end of this chapter.

Why Do Students Cheat?

The Higher Education Landscape

Numerous authors have eloquently described the changing higher education context and the effect this has had on academic integrity. Brimble (2016) provides a succinct summary as follows:

Higher education is in a state of change. The forces of massification and commercialization of higher education that have been in action for some time have converged with the modality changes (drive to blended, online and open access modes), a changing policy environment which has led in many cases to decline government contributions to the cost of higher education and the drive for greater research productivity and commercialization . . . this sets the scene for a more time poor academic community that has to balance competing pressures, often with research outcomes as a dominant driver. This is exacerbated by the demands of changes in the teaching and learning space which many academics (who are not in most cases trained educators) are not equipped to deal with.

(Brimble, 2016, pp. 367–368)

Writers in the Handbook of Academic Integrity (Blum, 2016; Foster, 2016; Heuser, Martindale, & Lazo, 2016; Kezar & Bernstein-Sierra, 2016) and elsewhere (see Bretag, 2007, 2013) have also situated academic integrity (and its negative counterpart, academic misconduct) in the context of an increasingly commercialized, diverse, internationalized, under-resourced, bureaucratized, and highly competitive higher education sector. This same sector is often at the whim of changing government policies: it is staffed by poorly trained and resourced educators, most of whom have little or no job security, and promises “outputs” in the form of credentials for employment. Kezar and Bernstein-Sierra (2016, p. 331) are compelling in their argument that

academic capitalist values have become embedded in the institutional culture of most campuses: a culture that mimics the market economy and values rational self-interest over the search for truth and intellectual progress.

It is in this environment that educators ask students to demonstrate the values of the academic community—honesty, trust, respect, fairness, responsibility, and courage—despite conflicting messages about the intrinsic importance of these utopian and rarely recognized or rewarded values. It is also in this environment that researchers seek solutions to the “problem” of student cheating, as if it occurs in a vacuum. It is the confluence of overlapping and intertwining factors in this complex, internationalized context that has set the stage for the rise of global degree mills (referred to elsewhere in this chapter as “contract cheating”) and fraudulent admissions processes (see Heuser, Martindale, & Lazo, 2016). It could even be described as “a perfect storm” for the annihilation of higher education in its current form (see Devlin & Gray, 2007 for a dystopian vision).

Individual Influences

Much has been written about students’ motivations for engaging in breaches of academic integrity. Blum (2009, 2016) has provided insights into the modern-day student in higher education and makes the case that

it is ineffective to address the topic of teaching and enforcing academic integrity without understanding the lives, hopes, values, and challenges of those who are expected to enact it: college students.

(Blum, 2016, p. 383)

Blum (2016) lists the characteristics of contemporary college students that the author cogently argues impact on students’ motivations to adhere to or breach the principles of academic integrity. These include differing motivations for enrolling in higher education (ranging from the intrinsic objectives of learning through to extrinsic reasons relating to “economic, occupational, credentialist, and practical goals” (Blum, 2016, p. 392); divergent understandings about authorship practices and norms of sharing; pressures to achieve (from society, school, teachers, coaches, family, peers, potential employers); lack of interest in courses or programs; the need to balance complex lives, including extra-curricular and on-campus activities; time pressures; developing adult roles and relationships; and finally, increasing issues relating to mental health and mental illness.

The widely cited article by Park (2003) lists nine motives for student plagiarism, many of which overlap with Blum (2016). These include: genuine misunderstanding, “efficiency gain” (a high grade for the least effort), time management, personal values/attitudes, defiance, students’ attitudes to teachers and class, denial or neutralization, temptation or opportunity, and lack of deterrence.

Empirical research supports many of Blum’s (2016) and Park’s (2003) assertions. Rettinger and Kramer (2009, p. 301), reporting on data from 158 students at one U.S. private university, found that “cheaters” were more extrinsically oriented, reported more direct knowledge of cheating and had stronger neutralizing attitudes (i.e., the ability to justify cheating behavior). Beasley (2013) used an innovative research method to determine students’ motivations to engage in academic misconduct. The author analyzed 298 open-ended responses of American undergraduate students who had been reported for cheating to the question, “What, if anything, would have stopped you from committing your act of academic dishonesty?” Two of the key themes from the data related to students’ ignorance of the rules of academic integrity (including appropriate behaviors and consequences for breaches) and time pressure/poor time management. Other researchers in the United Kingdom (Franklyn-Stokes & Newstead, 1995) and Australia (Devlin & Gray, 2007; Koh, Scully, & Woodliff, 2011) have also found that time pressure has an impact on students’ propensity to engage in academic integrity breaches such as plagiarism.

On the surface, it appears that students’ motivations have changed little since the 1990s according to academic integrity research. However, it could be argued that students’ lives have become increasingly complex, with issues such as mental illness (see Blum, 2016) being an additional burden for many students in the modern era.

Peer Influences

Research has consistently shown that one of the strongest motivators of students’ cheating behavior is peer influence. McCabe and Trevino (1993, 1997) found that peer behavior was the most significant variable in relation to student cheating. More recently, Rettinger and Kramer (2009, p. 305) found that students’ direct knowledge of other’s academic misconduct was strongly associated with increased breaches of their own. Institutional culture therefore has a critical role to play regarding students’ decisions to act with or without integrity, and McCabe and colleagues have been at the forefront in advocating for honor codes as a means of fostering integrity on campus (McCabe & Trevino, 1993; McCabe, Trevino, & Butterfield, 2012). Brimble (2016) maintains that students’ “perceptions of other students’ behaviour, the likelihood of being caught, and the severity of the consequences” have a critical role to play in influencing student behavior.

Consequences for Breaches

The “likelihood of being caught and the severity of the consequences” is certainly a powerful deterrent to cheating behavior. In numerous studies (Ahmad et al., 2008; Diekhoff et al., 1999; Power, 2009) students have reported that their fear of being caught combined with their concerns about the potential punishment was the main reason for not engaging in unethical conduct, rather than their intrinsic motivation to learn with integrity. In light of this research, it is not surprising that until relatively recently academic integrity policy has tended to be articulated in legalistic, moralistic, and/or punitive language (Grigg, 2010; Sutherland-Smith, 2008). Research in 2011 (Bretag et al., 2011) suggested that a shift in approach was occurring, although the majority (51%) of Australian policies still focused on “misconduct” and the associated “penalties” even when promoting a seemingly educative approach.

The Role of the Teacher

The view that teachers have a pivotal role to play in terms of their influence on students’ behavior has been the subject of much commentary and recommendations for good practice (Bertram Gallant, 2008; Carroll, 2002; HEA, 2011b; Lang, 2013), particularly in relation to curriculum and assessment design. While the phrase “designing out” student cheating (HEA, 2011b) has been commonly used, there is now less confidence that assessment—even that which is “original, sequential, reflective and personalised” (Bretag et al., 2016)—is sufficient to address some forms of academic misconduct. However, teachers do much more than set assessment tasks.

As the definition of academic integrity by the Exemplary Academic Integrity Project (2013) posited, teachers, and researchers have a particular responsibility to be role models of integrity to students. However, in the current under-resourced, time-poor, and insecure working environment that characterizes higher education across the globe, teachers may find themselves guilty of academic practice that does little to promote academic integrity. Teaching materials may be rehashed versions of others’ work and poorly referenced, if at all. Assessment tasks may remain unchanged from semester to semester, with creativity and innovation in assessment little more than an unfulfilled aspiration. Internet sources may provide a quick overview of a topic rather than a deep analysis of peer reviewed research. Feedback to students may be minimal and face-to-face contact almost non-existent. Even research papers may not be written to an appropriate scholarly standard, with many authors resorting to recycling their own or others’ work in the “publish or perish” hothouse of academia (see, e.g., Bretag & Carapiet, 2007; Bretag & Mahmud, 2009).

Students look to teachers to lead by example, to create vibrant, engaging learning environments, and to demonstrate that academic integrity matters. This issue can be illustrated in the context of higher education in Poland, where the spending per academic is four times lower than the average in the European Union (Kweik, 2003, p. 468). Many Polish professors therefore need to be employed in multiple jobs, and this has negative implications for the quality of both teaching and research. Lupton, Chapman, and Weiss (2000) found that Polish students indicated they would be more inclined to cheat in classrooms where professors were not demonstrably focused on academic integrity such as setting original assessments, ensuring vigilant proctoring of exams and maintaining strict classroom regulations. Research by Keith-Spiegel et al. (1998, p. 215) provided evidence for why professors may choose to be less than vigilant in promoting and enforcing academic integrity standards. These included the belief that there was sufficient evidence to substantiate cheating; alongside stress and a lack of courage; the extensive time and effort to address potential breaches; concern about retaliation or a legal challenge, and the belief that cheating students would fail anyway.

While much of the empirical research has focussed on students’ self-reported cheating behavior, it is prudent to note the valuable and inseparable role of the teacher in any learning situation and the impact of this role on ethical academic conduct.

Academic Integrity—More Than a Student Issue

Based on responses from 1,186 Australian postgraduate research students from six Australian universities, Bretag et al. (2014) reported that one in five respondents had never heard of academic integrity, and two in five said they did not know whether their university had an academic integrity policy. Clearly this lack of knowledge has the potential to impact on research and publishing practices as these students progress in their academic careers.

Ostensibly to address this gap, there are numerous guidelines for ethical research practice. As collated by Anderson et al. (2016, p. 886), international guides include: the Singapore Statement on Research Integrity (2010), Global Research Council’s Statement of Principles for Research Integrity (2012), The European Code of Conduct for Research Integrity (2011), and Responsible Conduct in the Global Research Enterprise: A Policy Report (2012). Examples of national guidelines include the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2007), Canada’s Tri-Agency Framework for the Responsible Conduct of Research (2016), the Universities UK’s The Concordat to Support Research Integrity (2012), and the Chinese Academy of Science’s Toward Excellence in Science (2014).

National guides outline the general responsibilities of the university, as well as the specific duties of other stakeholders such as advisors/supervisors to provide induction, training, mentoring, and support to postgraduate research students. However, in their review of Australian integrity policies (n= 39), Mahmud and Bretag (2013) found that less than half of the policies provided information about the support and training available to postgraduate research students. This gives cause for concern, not only because of a lack of compliance with national guidelines (in this case, the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research) but also because of the likelihood for junior academics to have ongoing confusion about how to demonstrate integrity in the arguably more complex arena of research and research reporting.

Given the limited academic integrity training at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and the concomitant gaps in understanding, breaches of integrity are common in academia at all levels. Anderson (2008), reporting on a survey of 3,600 mid-career and 4,160 early-career scientists in the United States, found that 33% of the respondents had engaged in questionable research practices relating to data, methods, policy, use of funds, outside influence, peer review, giving credit and “cutting corners.” Anderson’s research is indicative of entrenched problems within academia and media scandals of serious integrity breaches by researchers erupt on a regular basis around the world (see ABC News, 2016; Butler, 2009; Trounson, 2011; Van Der Weyden, 2006; Weber-Wulff, 2013).

Promoting a Culture of Academic Integrity

Honor codes have been widely hailed by McCabe and others (see, e.g., Rettinger & Kramer, 2009) as critical to creating a campus culture that counters cheating. The International Center for Academic Integrity, originally founded by McCabe, provides a four-stage model of institutional change that privileges honor codes as representing the highest stage of development. There is an assumption that

this stage describes an institution where students take a major responsibility in implementing the integrity policy, and there is wide recognition that the code distinguishes the school while leading to lower cheating and plagiarism rates than most non-code schools.

(ICAI, n.d.)

However, the concept of honor codes is U.S.-centric and not necessarily culturally appropriate or replicable in other contexts. Bertram Gallant and Kalichman (2011) look beyond individual students, teachers, or even institutions to advocate for a “systems approach” that extends to the broader social and organizational culture. This approach is much more than mere compliance to a set of regulations or norms of behavior and requires a shared commitment at multiple points and within nested levels (individual, organizational, educational, and societal) to uphold an “ethical academy.”

As Bretag has also argued, rather than focusing on individuals’ responsibilities not to cheat, promoting a culture of integrity in academia requires a holistic and multistakeholder approach encompassing educational policymakers, senior managers, teaching academics and advisors, students at all levels, researchers, editors, and reviewers (Bretag, 2013). A genuinely holistic approach involves promoting integrity in every aspect of the academic enterprise. This includes university mission statements and marketing, admissions processes, nuanced and carefully articulated policy (with the resources to promote the policy and the “teeth” to enact it), assessment practices, and curriculum design. Students need to be provided with information during orientation, with embedded and targeted support in courses and at every stage and frequent and visual reminders on campus. A holistic culture will require partnering with students, professional development for staff, research training, and the use of new technologies to assist scholars at all stages of study and research to avoid integrity breaches and as a tool to detect and respond appropriately to breaches when they occur (Bretag, 2013).

In the United Kingdom and Australia, such a holistic approach takes as its starting point policies that include education for both teachers and students about academic integrity, plus real consequences for breaches (often referred to as “penalties” in the United Kingdom and Australia, or “sanctions” in the United States). The Higher Education Academy (HEA) in the United Kingdom produced two complementary resources—Policy Works (HEA, 2011a) and Supporting Academic Integrity (HEA, 2011b), to provide guidelines for the implementation of an academic integrity policy that not only supports students and teachers but responds to breaches consistently, fairly, and appropriately. The HEA resources have much in common with the “five core elements of exemplary academic integrity policy” identified by the Australian Academic Integrity Standards Project (Bretag et al., 2011) and the model for enacting such policy recommended by the Exemplary Academic Integrity Project (see Bretag & Mahmud, 2016).

In her contribution to the Handbook of Academic Integrity, Saddiqui (2016) built on both the systems and the holistic, multi-stakeholder approach to argue for a strategy which underscores the centrality of “community.” Saddiqui (2016, p. 1014) recommends the identification of the various interconnected groups within academic integrity stakeholder communities as a means of managing both the promotion of integrity and the responses to breaches more effectively. Such a participatory academic integrity approach has the potential to more effectively engage students as co-creators of academic integrity policies, procedures and interventions, rather than as passive recipients of institutionally developed and imposed regulations.

Academic Integrity 2.0

The Rise of Contract Cheating

The term “contract cheating” was first coined by Clarke and Lancaster (2006). Contract cheating occurs when students employ or use a third party to undertake their assessed work for them, and these third parties may include: essay writing services; friends, family, or other students; private tutors; copyediting services; agency websites, or “reverse classifieds” (Lancaster & Clarke, 2016, p. 639). While clearly not a “new” phenomenon, most commentators agree that there has been a global rise in contract cheating in recent years across all disciplines. This has raised the level of community concern about the credibility of higher education qualifications and academic outputs and has also changed the nature of research on the topic of academic integrity. Such is the level of concern that Quality Assurance Agencies across the world have scrambled to produce resources, advice, recommendations and “toolkits” to assist educators in addressing this challenge (see for example, CIQG, 2016; ICAI, 2016; QAA, 2017; TEQSA, 2017).

Of particular concern is the proliferation of marketing-savvy commercial providers who bombard students via social media, online platforms, and other advertising forums about their “academic services.” Newton and Lang (2016) identified five categories of third-party commercial providers: academic custom writing, online labor markets, prewritten essay banks, file-sharing sites, and paid exam takers. For a price, and even within extremely short turnaround timelines of hours rather than days, any assessment item can be contracted out to a third party (Newton & Lang, 2016). Employment portfolios, reflective journals, case studies, experiential reflections, online presentations, group projects, research proposals, and even complete doctoral dissertations can all be bought like any other commodity. Despite the efforts of many educators to create meaningful, well-designed assessment tasks, the type of assessment does not appear to prevent outsourcing (Bretag et al., 2016; see also Dante, 2010).

Educators and researchers agree that contract cheating is qualitatively different than plagiarism, collusion, or the other relatively minor breaches that have been the subject of attention in recent years, and so requires an entirely different approach. Walker and Townley (2012) point out that cheating involving third parties is difficult to detect and constitutes a form of fraud. Moreover, while educational responses have evolved to address long-standing issues of plagiarism, lack of understanding, and/or poor academic literacies, education alone is not sufficient to address such a deliberate form of cheating (Bretag et al., 2016).

However, students and teachers seem not to share the same concern about this issue. Most educators consider strict penalties such as suspension or expulsion to be appropriate outcomes when contract cheating is detected, whereas students tend to take a much more lenient view, regarding failure in the assessment task to be a sufficient response (Newton, 2015). Although there is little empirical data to demonstrate the extent of the problem, research in the United Kingdom by Rigby et al. (2015) demonstrated that 50% of their student respondents (n = 90) were willing to purchase an assignment. The Australian Office for Learning and Teaching funded a two-year project (2016 to 2018) to collect data from both teachers and students to determine attitudes toward and experiences of contract cheating. In addition, the project is in the process of analyzing a large data set of procurement notices from online commercial cheat sites, as well as breach report data from two Australian universities, to determine if there is a link between assessment type and contract cheating.

Having devoted more than a decade to writing about and being responsible for managing academic integrity at the University of California at San Diego, Tricia Bertram Gallant has recently taken a different stance from her previously held position that the “moral panic” over student cheating was not a useful response to the issue. In early publications, she had been forthright in her view that cheating “can be reduced through ethical classroom environments, good pedagogy, and well-designed assessment” (2008, as cited by Bertram Gallant, 2016) and that academic integrity breaches provide “teachable moments” about ethics, decision making, and integrity (Bertram Gallant, 2016).

The recent explosion in contract cheating has given Bertram Gallant and other members of the international community of academic integrity scholars pause for thought (see Dante, 2010). Bertram Gallant (2016) now argues for a strong moral response that makes clear that “contract cheating” in education is not the same as the less sinister and more widely accepted practice of “ghostwriting,” as used, for example, by politicians or other professionals who are not necessarily expected to write original text themselves. When students engage in contract cheating this has ramifications, not only for their own learning outcomes but also for institutional reputations, educational standards/credibility, professional practice and public safety, particularly if it is somehow normalized as an acceptable way for academic work to be accomplished.

As noted previously, academic integrity practitioners and researchers have long advocated for the benefits of original, sequential, and personalized assessment design, coupled with clearly articulated academic integrity policy to counter cheating and foster a culture of integrity (Bertram Gallant, 2008; Bretag et al., 2014; Carroll & Appleton, 2001). However, based on recently available data, assessment design does not appear to be a panacea to the seemingly intractable and escalating problem of contract cheating. The early findings from the Australian Cheating and Assessment Design Project (Bretag et al., 2016–2018) indicate that the three significant variables associated with contract cheating include: dissatisfaction with the teaching and learning environment, a perception that there are “lots of opportunities to cheat,” and speaking a Language Other than English (LOTE) at home. To minimize contract cheating, the project recommends that

universities need to support the development of teaching and learning environments which nurture strong student-teacher relationships, reduce opportunities to cheat through curriculum and assessment design, and address the well-recognised language and learning needs of LOTE students.

(Bretag et al., 2017)

The Australian Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA, 2017) provides 22 key recommendations to address contract cheating that respond to five critical areas: (1) policies to promote academic integrity; (2) policies and procedures to address academic integrity breaches; (3) actions to mitigate risks to academic integrity; (4) the provision of academic integrity guidance; and (5) good practices to maintain academic integrity. These recommendations, in combination with the advice provided by the UK Quality Assurance Agency (2017) and the U.S. Council for Higher Education Accreditation/International Quality Group, provide colleges and universities with a solid foundation of good practice to respond to the challenge of contract cheating in their own contexts. Importantly, the advice has been provided by national quality assurance agencies with the expectation that it will followed—those higher education institutions that naively or willfully ignore these guidelines may risk future registration and/or accreditation.


This entry has provided a brief overview of the research on academic integrity, beginning with Bowers’s (1964) seminal work through to McCabe and colleagues’ highly influential work from 1992, and over two decades of research from around the world. The entry has demonstrated that research in the United States has been dominated by a values approach (as articulated by the International Center for Academic Integrity) and has therefore focused on broad surveys of students to determine the magnitude and motivations for cheating. American scholars such as Howard (1995) and Bertram Gallant (2008), in company with researchers in other regions such as the United Kingdom (Carroll & Appleton, 2001; HEA, 2011a, 2011b), Europe (Glendinning et al., 2013), and Australia (Bretag et al., 2014) have tended to be motivated by a teaching and learning agenda. This has led the latter group to investigate students’ (mis)understandings of academic integrity norms and practices, and how best to address gaps in knowledge.

Scholars in both the United States and elsewhere, have from the earliest surveys and research projects, aimed to use empirical data to make recommendations for fostering a campus culture that recognizes the centrality of academic integrity to every aspect of the educational enterprise. Academic integrity is critical to education’s transformative potential for individuals, to the value of tertiary qualifications as preparation for professional practice, to the reputation of educational institutions and to the values and behaviors in society at large.


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