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How Do We Promote Academic Integrity in Higher Education? Critical Conversations #28

February 1, 2022 Carmela De Maio Kathryn Dixon

JCC Connexions, Vol. 8, No. 1, February 2022

In "Promoting Academic Integrity in Institutions of Higher Learning: What 30 Years of Research (1990-2020) in Australasia Has Taught Us" (Journal of College & Character, vol. 23, no. 1, February 2022), Carmela De Maio and Kathryn Dixon, review and evaluate the academic integrity research conducted in Australasia over a 30-year period from 1990–2020. They present an analysis of studies on academic integrity including those on contract cheating as an increasing area of concern in higher education.

They respond to questions posed by Co-editor Jon Dalton relating to their research:

1. What are some of the primary institutional strategies you recommend for promoting a culture of academic integrity in higher education?

CARMELA: Some of the primary institutional strategies recommended for promoting a culture of academic integrity in higher education include:

  • exemplary, clear, and easy to follow academic integrity policies and procedures;
  • authentic assessment and curriculum design to reduce the chances of academic misconduct;
  • training and education for students, academics, and professional staff on how to maintain and promote academic integrity within the institution; and
  • research collaborations at the national and international level with governments and other institutions.  

Some of these strategies are already in place in some institutions. Most are worth implementing to ensure standards are upheld, reputations of universities and colleges are maintained and, importantly, degrees awarded by these institutions are valid so that students will continue to come and study there.

KATHRYN: It does seem evident that institutions overall need a holistic organisational approach, and this means strategies and policies that are clearly articulated throughout all levels and across all stakeholders. As Bertram Gallant (2008) indicated, misconduct is a pedagogic, teaching and learning problem. There is a need for instruction in avoiding misconduct and not necessarily punishment. Students need a sense of belonging and a perceived value of their degree upon completion in order to achieve a culture shift regarding academic misconduct.

2. What does the latest research tell us about why college students cheat?

CARMELA:  The latest research findings are consistent with findings from the literature from decades ago. The research suggests that there are several reasons why students cheat, including:

  •        a lack of time or poor time management skills;
  •        limited academic skills such as paraphrasing and referencing;
  •        little or no understanding of what constitutes academic misconduct;
  •        work commitments, economic stress, and personal pressures on students who are balancing multiple tasks;
  •        negative emotions or a negative state of mind; and
  •        feeling of a lack of support from their teachers and institutions. (Bretag et al., 2019; Tindall & Curtis, 2020)

The COVID pandemic, which forced many institutions to move to remote teaching may have exacerbated the above factors, especially since students may feel a reduced connection to their institution and their peers, coupled with an increased feeling of a lack of support from their institutions.

KATHRYN: If students believe that their engagement in academic misconduct is likely to result in lenient penalties and if they also believe that it is unlikely they will be caught, they are more inclined to cheat (Brimble & Stevenson-Clarke, 2006). In order to avoid this, universities need to promote policy that clearly articulates the academic misconduct process and ensuing penalties.

3. What is “contract cheating” and how much of a problem is it today?

CARMELA: There are many definitions of contract cheating provided in the literature. Some researchers say that it is when you outsource your assignment to others for payment; some say it is outsourcing without payment (Harper et al., 2021).

Although there is a lot of angst about contract cheating, studies suggest that is accounts for between 7-21% of academic misconduct cases (Bretag et al., 2019; Harper et al., 2019). This means there remain over 80% of academic misconduct in other forms such as plagiarism and research misconduct which require our attention.  However, with the increase in contract cheating sites and reliance on the internet, we need to be aware that contract cheating is a problem that may cause concern in the future.

KATHRYN: We need to look at the reasons why students contract cheat. Some of these include student dissatisfaction with their institutions and instructors. Peer influence plays a key role in whether students are more likely to engage in this behaviour (Awdry & Newton, 2019). If students believe peers are outsourcing work, or know of contract cheating incidences, this influences whether they will follow. This is a pedagogical problem, and universities must address this across the board.

4.How  has the growing use of remote learning affected the problem of student academic misconduct?

CARMELA: At the moment, there does not appear to be any published research to suggest that remote learning has led to an increase in academic misconduct; however, if students feel disconnected with their teachers and their institutions (as may be the case in remote learning), then there may be an increased chance that they will engage in academic misconduct (Tindall & Curtis, 2020). However, if online resources that support students in maintaining academic integrity are available to them, the chances of academic integrity breaches are reduced (Slade & Benson, 2020).   

KATHRYN: I agree with the above comments.

5. You advocate for a holistic, institution-wide approach to the problem of academic dishonesty.  Why is such an integrated and all hands-on deck approach so necessary?

CARMELA: No one person can handle the demands of promoting and maintaining academic integrity in higher education institutions. It is not enough to handball the issue to academic integrity advisors or student affairs administrators. All of us are responsible, through our actions and teaching, to ensure that students are aware of institutional policies and procedures on academic integrity and are given strategies to enable them to maintain academic integrity in their work. We need to be role models of ethical standards and practices. We also need a shared understanding of what constitutes academic integrity in institutions of higher learning. This means we need to work together with faculty, students, and professionals in our institutions so that our responses to academic integrity breaches remain consistent and fair.

KATHRYN: It might also be useful to focus on some of the reasons students don’t engage in misconduct. Students with high self-control, perseverance, and satisfaction with competence tend to avoid these behaviours (Rundle et al., 2019). It may be useful for universities to promote these values amongst students through the overall teaching and learning culture.


Awdry, R., & Newton, P. (2019). Staff Views on Commercial Contract Cheating in Higher Education: A Survey Study in Australia and the UK. Higher Education, 78(4), 593-610. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-019-00360-0

Bertram Gallant, T. (2008). Academic integrity in the 21st Century: A teaching and learning imperative. Jossey-Bass.

Bretag, T., Harper, R., Burton, M., Ellis, C., Newton, P., Rozenberg, P., Saddiqui, S., & van Haeringen, K. (2019). Contract cheating: A survey of Australian university students. Studies in Higher Education, 44(11), 1820–1837. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2018.1462788

Brimble, M., & Stevenson-Clarke, P. (2006). Managing academic dishonesty in Australian universities: Implications for teaching, learning and scholarship. Accounting, Accountability & Performance, 12(1), 32–63. https://doi.org/ 0.3316/931536171829955

Harper, R., Bretag, T., Ellis, C., Newton, P., Rozenberg, P., Saddiqui, S., & van Haeringen, K. (2019). Contract cheating: A survey of Australian university staff. Studies in Higher Education, 44(11), 1857-1873. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2018.1462789

Harper, R., Bretag, T., & Rundle, K. (2021). Detecting contract cheating: Examining the role of assessment type. Higher Education Research and Development. 40(2), 263-278. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2020.1724899

Rundle, K., Curtis, G., & Clare, J. (2019). Why Students Do Not Engage in Contract Cheating. Frontiers in Psychology, 10(1), 1-15. https://doi.org/10.3389/psyg.2019.0222

Slade, C., & Benson, K. (2020, November 23). Reflections on academic integrity development during COVID-19 at the 550 University of Queensland, Australia. https://www.academicintegrity.org/blog/reflections-on-academic-integrity-and academic-development-during-covid19-at-the-university-of-queensland-Australia/

Tindall, I., & Curtis, G. (2020). Negative emotionality predicts attitudes toward plagiarism. Journal of Academic Ethics, 18(1), 89–102. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10805-019-09343-3