Academic honesty is critical for the fulfillment of the very purpose for which institutions of higher learning exist. In that regard, academic dishonesty defeats the purpose of education. However, regardless of the damage it occasions, academic dishonesty continues to be rampant in many institutions of higher learning. This text concerns itself with the issue of academic honesty in higher education.
Academic Honesty: A Concise Definition
As far as the advancement of education is concerned, the relevance of academic integrity cannot be overstated. But what exactly is academic integrity or honesty? Understanding academic honesty first calls for an understanding of that which is regarded academic misconduct. According to Kibler (as cited in Mackinnon & Associates, 2004), "academic misconduct refers to violations of rules of academic honesty or integrity, such as cheating on tests or plagiarism…" As I had already pointed out in the introductory section, academic dishonesty effectively defeats the very purpose of education. My assertion in this case is founded on the fact that such dishonesty gives one party an unfair advantage over others. In basic terms, institutions of higher learning seek to promote the learning process so as to enhance knowledge acquisition. However, to facilitate entry into various specialty areas including but not limited to medicine, law etc., institutions also promote competition through the utilization of student achievement rankings. It is also important to note that excellent performance enhances an individual's chances of securing a well paying job. With that in mind, a student who excels in his or her academics has an advantage over his or her peers. However, when such an advantage is gained unfairly via cheating, it effectively defeats the very purpose of both education and academic competition.
Academic Dishonesty and Plagiarism
As Long (1992) points out, the relatively few instances of academic dishonesty that have been publicized in the past should not be taken to mean that instances of the same are rare or even non-existent. In fact, given the level of threat academic dishonesty poses to the entire academic system, nearly all institutions of higher learning have in place a well-defined policy on academic honesty. Heavy penalties exist for students found to be dishonest in their academic work. Sanctions in this case could include but they are not limited to course marks cancelation, imposition of fines, and suspension from the institution for a given amount of time. In some instances, the dishonest student is expelled from the institution. In this section, I concern myself with plagiarism as the most common form of academic dishonesty. Later on in the text, I will discuss some of the strategies that can be embraced to enhance academic integrity.
In basic terms, although it could easily be one of the most common forms of academic dishonesty, plagiarism does not have an assigned definition. This is to say that there is no standard universal definition of plagiarism (Southerland-Smith, 2008). In that regard, a number of definitions have been floated over time in an attempt to define plagiarism. Some of the most consulted definitions of plagiarism are given by the Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary, the Concise Oxford Dictionary and the Collins Dictionary of the English Language amongst others (Southerland-Smith, 2008). In this text, I will embrace the definition of plagiarism given by the Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary. According to Southerland-Smith (2008), the Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary defines plagiarism as taking and using "another person's thoughts, writings, inventions as one's own." In my own opinion, in addition to being simplistic, this definition of plagiarism correctly captures the very nature and conduct of plagiarism. Further, this definition allows us to correctly identify the various forms plagiarism assumes. To begin with, using a paper that has been submitted in the past and resubmitting it as one's own can within the confines of this definition be regarded an act of plagiarism. Having a colleague complete a paper with an intention of submitting such a paper as one's own can also be regarded an act of plagiarism within the confines of the definition I highlight above. Further, plagiarism includes lifting off significant portions of text from a given source and passing off the same as one's own. Although the examples of plagiarism I give above can be regarded largely intentional, it can be noted that in some instances, students in institutions of higher learning do not plagiarize intentionally. It is important to note that apart from being frowned upon in academic circles, plagiarism is also considered a serious offense in law. Indeed, as Sutherland-Smith (2008) points out, some jurisdictions protect the rights of authors by amongst other things addressing plagiarism within the confines of civil law. This effectively makes plagiarism an offense punishable in law.
Documented Instances of Academic Dishonesty in Higher Education
Regardless of the firm stance academic institutions all over the world take to discourage academic dishonesty, some students have over time been caught engaging in academic malpractice. To highlight this assertion, I will give two examples of recent and past cases where students have been accused of engaging in academic dishonesty. One such case is described by Long (1992) where a senior student in one of America's most prestigious institution of higher learning was accused of forging recommendation letters so as to be admitted to the university. What shocked many in this particular case according to the author was the fact that in addition to having an enviable record in matters academic, this particular student also possessed "near genius" abilities (Long, 1992). Although this event took place in the mid 70s, similar events have been publicized in the recent past.
A more recent instance of academic dishonesty that drew the attention of both the government and national media involved quite a good number of students in the University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. In this particular case, Sutherland-Smith (2008) points out that a one of the university's lecturers ended up giving a fail to assignments submitted by students after discovering that large sections or portions of the said assignments had been downloaded from the internet. Although the lecturer in this case was subsequently overruled by the university in which case the offending/plagiarized papers were passed, his decision was upheld after the matter was highlighted in the media prompting the government to intervene. According to polls taken at the time, this particular incident led to "a drop in the level of public faith, not only in the University of Newcastle, but in universities in general" (Sutherland-Smith, 2008).
Enhancing Academic Honesty in Institutions of Higher Learning
According to Long (1992), academic malpractice can in some instances be as a result of lack of proper instruction "about the nature of plagiarism." In this case, the dishonest student may not be familiar with the various approaches used to attribute borrowed ideas to their sources. There are several approaches students in institutions of higher learning can embrace to protect themselves from accusations of academic dishonesty. These approaches will be highlighted in the next section.
It is important to note that institutions of higher learning have every reason to detect and avert instances of academic dishonesty. Indeed, as Sutherland-Smith (2008) points out, an institution's integrity can easily be called into question if it is established that plagiarism is rampant in the said institution. In the process, the reputation of such an institution could suffer irreparable damage in the court of public opinion. For this reason, institutions continue to merge emerging approaches of combating plagiarism with the existing strategies so as to uphold the integrity of the learning process. In that regard, it is important to note that there are various approaches that can be adopted by institutions of higher learning to prevent plagiarism. These approaches include what I had mentioned earlier on in this text as drafting a policy on academic dishonesty. Such a policy can clearly define plagiarism and why the same does not have a place in the academic system. Further, the policy can go a step further and clearly outline the various penalties for plagiarism. It is also important to note that the advent of technology has made it easier for institutions of higher learning to fight plagiarism. For instance, a quick look at the internet reveals various plagiarism detection services run by independent entities. An example of such a service is Turnitin. Turnitin according to Sutherland-Smith (2008) is considered by instructors as a rather useful tool when it comes to the detection of matching texts.
Academic Dishonesty: The Way Forward
When it comes to academic dishonesty, students are largely the main players. In that regard, it is expected that their role towards the minimization of the same should be equally significant. As I have already pointed out in the section above, there are various approaches students can embrace to ensure they are not accused of academic dishonesty. For instance students must ensure that they cite borrowed texts correctly by following all the recommended citation and referencing rules. In the words of Ellis (2012), "the basic guideline for preventing plagiarism…