Building an institutional culture of academic integrity
Institutional commitment to an academic integrity culture raises the standard of any academic activity, creates an atmosphere of trust in academia, and attracts and breeds honest and responsible individuals within the community. These values are considered to be transferable, either from social life to academia or from academia to social life. From this perspective, developing an institutional policy on academic integrity is key to providing guidance for both lecturers and students. For instance, a carefully planned policy would ensure the use of similarity reports to prevent plagiarism, while an ill-prepared one might merely focus on similarity ratios to detect so-called plagiarism.
National policymakers (e.g., the Council of Higher Education, and the Ministry of Education) may provide some guidance in this regard, drawing on the recommendations of related international associations. Typically, policy documents on academic integrity are summative by nature, in the hope of providing a logical framework along with causal links. However, policies should also adopt a formative stance by prioritizing education on academic integrity. Furthermore, a carefully designed policy should address the rights and responsibilities of all stakeholders in the maintenance of academic integrity, including in cases of academic misconduct. For example, it should assist lecturers in discerning accidental plagiarism from intentional plagiarism; propose appropriate sanctions, if necessary; and prevent probable plagiarism by the same students in the future.
An effective policy document on academic integrity should function as a roadmap enabling an institution to determine its approach towards academic misconduct. It should be specific and focus not only on the detection of academic misconduct and related sanctions but also on measures to prevent academic malpractices. It should also explain how to use digital tools such as text-matching software, or reference management and knowledge organization software for the prevention of academic misconduct. Conducting a needs analysis covering every stakeholder, before designing the policy, can also be highly beneficial. In addition, due to the dynamic nature of academia, policies should benefit from regular updates and revisions following a process similar to that of action research, i.e.: it is essential to diagnose a problematic situation and propose related solutions in an interactive manner.
Since academic integrity is fundamental to every level of education and is the responsibility of all stakeholders, the design and implementation of such policies should involve a wide audience: from institutions to individuals such as K12 schools, higher education institutions, academic research centres, and researchers working on the policies.
Policy development is challenging due to its social, psychological, and legal dimensions. Several international associations including the European Network for Academic Integrity (ENAI), the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI), the IIEP-UNESCO’s platform on Ethics and Corruption in Education (ETICO), and the Council of Europe Platform on Ethics, Transparency and Integrity in Education
(ETINED) aim to promote academic integrity globally by encouraging collaboration between institutions. Other centres such as the Clemson University Center for Academic Integrity, Duke University Center for Academic Integrity, and UAE Centre for Academic Integrity act at a more local level. Such organisations might usefully support the development of academic integrity policies. For example, ENAI has recently created the working group “Academic Integrity Policies”, helping institutions to develop or revise their policies to establish a culture of academic integrity at the institutional level.
In conclusion, building a culture of academic integrity may be an attainable goal provided that institutions prepare their own well-designed academic integrity policies addressing the rights and responsibilities of all stakeholders. Considering the weaknesses of detection and reactive approaches which are a feature of current policies, developing and implementing a preventive approach towards academic misconduct would appear to be a more reasonable aim. And, as an ill-prepared policy may bring more harm than benefit, institutions are advised to refer to experts to support their efforts towards academic integrity.
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