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Case studies: Academic misconduct and the impact on students

Have you heard the term “academic misconduct” but are unsure as to what this could look like? Here are some examples of academic misconduct and the real-life impacts on students.

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Case Study 1:

  • A student uses a lot of quotes in their first assessment. Several weeks later they receive an email accusing them of plagiarism and inviting them to a meeting.
  • They are confused, and worried that they will be expelled from the University.
  • During the meeting an Academic Conduct Officer explains that it’s not clear which parts of the assessment are the student’s own work.
  • The student explains that problems with their visa meant that they started their course late and missed some training on academic writing.
  • Because they haven’t had feedback before, this is a Preliminary case.
  • The Academic Conduct Officer recommends some academic writing training which will stop the student having problems in future and hopefully, improve their grades.
  • Their work will be marked with the affected sections removed and they will receive mandatory training and a Faculty advice letter.
  •  If their assignment isn’t strong enough to pass, they will need to resit, and their mark will be capped at 40%.

Case Study 2:

  • Two flatmates are in the second year of the same course – we will call them “A” and “B”
  •  A submitted their essay last semester and got a good mark
  •  B is struggling with a resit and asks A for their work to get an idea of how the essay should be structured.
  • A eventually agrees to share their work.
  • A few weeks later both students receive accusations of Serious Collusion, and separate Academic Conduct meeting invitations.
  • During the meetings, the Academic Conduct Officer explains that a substantial part of both essays are identical and this is unlikely to have happened by chance.
  • The Academic Conduct Officer shows both anonymised assessments to each student and points out the similar sections.
  • A keeps their mark but still gets an advice letter and some training, as you shouldn’t share your work with anyone. However, A was able to prove that the work was his own and that he didn’t know that B would copy the work.
  • As a substantial part of B’s assessment was copied from another student, B has to resit the component which will be capped at 40%, attend academic training, and gets a formal warning letter. Their penalty is a more severe penalty, as the work they submitted wasn’t their own.

Case Study 3:

  • A student was unwell when working on a report and submitted it in a rush. They copied some diagrams without including any references or citations. Their Turnitin report showed 15% similarity.
  • When they receive an email inviting them to an Academic Misconduct meeting, they don’t understand why, because their Turnitin score was so low.
  • During the meeting the Academic Conduct Officer explains that there is no “safe” Turnitin score and that Turnitin matches written work, not pictures or diagrams.
  • The Academic Conduct Officer showed the article that the diagrams originally came from. The diagrams are a significant part of the report, and are not the student’s own work, or referenced as someone else’s work.
  • The Academic Conduct Officer refers the student to referencing training and recommends software such as Refworks to help them reference.
  • The student receives zero mark for this assessment and a Formal warning letter. They will need to resit the assessment.
  • They could have applied for an extension or a deferral if serious illness meant that they were struggling to meet the deadline.

Case Study 4:

  • A student receives an invitation to a Viva Voce for an assessment.
  • They had another Academic Conduct meeting already this semester for a different assignment, which has been upheld as Poor Academic Practice- Plagiarism.
  • Last time their invitation included the type and level of the offence but this letter did not have any of that information.
  • They are unsure how to prepare for the meeting and contact their Students’ Union Advice Service for more information.
  • The Advice Service explains that a viva is used if the Academic Conduct Officer doesn’t believe a student has created the work
  • They will not receive a type or level of offence in the invitation as the marker isn’t yet sure whether an offence has been committed
  • The Advice Service provide some information about the questions which the module leader may ask, and the structure of the viva voce.
  • The student rereads the work and makes sure they have their research notes available. During the meeting the Academic Conduct Officer asks a lot of questions about the ideas and vocabulary in the assessment. 
  • The student answers these questions and the case doesn’t go any further as the Academic Conduct Officer is satisfied that the work is their own.
  • If the Academic Conduct Officer was not satisfied, the student would have an Academic Conduct meeting and receive a penalty based on the seriousness of the academic misconduct if it was upheld.
  • As the viva and the previous Academic Conduct offence were for submissions in the same assessment period, they would have both been classed as First Offences even if both were upheld.

Case Study 5:

  • A student has previously had an upheld serious offence and is resitting their dissertation, a major part of their degree. This involves gathering information using questionnaires
  • When the data is collected, they realise that the results are not what they expected. Worried that they will not pass, they use the results from another study without telling their supervisor.
  • Later they receive an email accusing them of Very Serious Falsification and Fabrication.
  • This means that the Academic Conduct Officer thinks they have made up or copied data in a major piece of work.
  • They are invited to an Academic Conduct Panel, sent a lot of information and advice to read and asked to produce a statement before meeting the Panel.
  • They contact their Students’ Union Advice Service who give advice on writing the statement.
  • The student has been having serious health problems and provides evidence of this to the panel before the meeting.
  • Because they have a previous offence, it’s possible that they could have been excluded permanently, but the University decides to withdraw them temporarily and allow them to return once they are in better health and has had academic training about data collection and ethics. They will need to resit the module which will be capped at 40%.

Case Study 6:

  • A student receives a WhatsApp message offering to write essays for them. They contact the number once they’ve failed and have their final attempt at an assignment.
  • They agree to pay for an essay which they submit as their own work.
  • Later the essay service threatens to tell the University they cheated unless the student pays double the fee.
  • The student refuses and later receives an email accusing them of very serious Collusion and inviting them to an Academic Conduct meeting.
  • During the meeting the Academic Conduct Officer shows an anonymous email sent from the essay service including the student’s essay and allegations that some of the sources referenced don’t exist.
  • The student can’t answer questions about the arguments they made in the essay or explain why the references in the essay are invalid, though they insist that it’s their own work.
  • The student receives zero mark for the whole module and is referred for training. They would usually be given another opportunity to resit the module, but as they don’t have any more attempts left, they have the option to continue on their course for a lesser qualification.
  • If they have any further academic misconduct problems, they may be excluded from the University. 



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