What happens to a student who cheats?

24 March 2022

Cheating on an exam is a breach of rules which unfortunately occurs at universities, and this is something Umeå University takes seriously. To unify Swedish universities, the Association of Swedish Higher Education Institutions (SUHF) has initiated a group to investigate the needs for shared declarations, recommendations, or frameworks as regards to prevent cheating, and report, assess and issue sanctions in disciplinary cases.

Cheating is a breach of rules and something Umeå University takes seriously. When universities reverted to online teaching and digital examinations as a consequence of the pandemic, the number of disciplinary cases at the University increased substantially. The most common way of cheating is plagiarism, but unauthorised assistance is also increasing steadily. It has definitely been challenging for universities to assess student learning in a legally certain manner through online tools. There are several underlying factors for the increase in cheating.

Katrine Riklund, Pro-Vice-Chancellor

Photo: Mattias Pettersson

I hope and believe that the number of cases will reduce again when students and staff are gradually returning to our campuses. The University is continuing its efforts to learn to ensure a high level of legal certainty in examinations, regardless of the method and location.

As a university, we must be clear about what is allowed during an examination and what constitutes unauthorised assistance or plagiarism. Students must be informed early in their education about the illegality of cheating and what happens if the university suspects cheating. So, why do students cheat? This question naturally has many potential answers. It could be caused by stress and being under pressure in your study situation. It could be ignorance of how to write an academic text, and of what demands are set on independent or academic work. According to the Higher Education Ordinance, universities may take disciplinary measures against students who have attempted to cheat. A fair assessment of study performance is a condition for higher education of high quality.

At SUHF, a group of ethics experts has established a work group for disciplinary issues with representatives from Swedish universities. I have been entrusted to chair that group and lead the work forward. Together, we are conducting an inventory of the processes for disciplinary cases and discuss potential routes towards finding a mutual approach between universities. We have identified some differences between universities, for instance as regards to when a disciplinary action such as suspension takes effect and how long it lasts.

My hopes are that the group's constructive discussions will lead to increased awareness and mutual recommendations or guidelines regarding reporting, assessing and sanctions for disciplinary cases as well as to prevent cheating at Swedish universities. I sincerely hope that more focus on disciplinary matters will act preventively. Because preferably, students should choose to learn and understand rather than to achieve results by cheating. That would be better for everyone.

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