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New QAA Viewpoint: Tackling Academic Misconduct in Higher education

Date: August 23 - 2018

Our Viewpoint series tackles some of the big questions in higher education and offers our opinion on key topics. In the latest QAA Viewpoint, we look at Tackling academic misconduct in higher education.

A new petition has launched this week, urging the government to legislate against essay mills.

Students committing essay fraud are liable to significant penalties if caught, including being disqualified from practicing in particular professions. Employers risk taking on graduates who lack the skills, knowledge and competencies which they rightly believe higher education qualifications ought to provide.

However, there is currently no legislation in the UK to prosecute the essay companies themselves. In 2016, we called for legislation as part of a multi-faceted approach to tackling essay mills. And we are currently considering a proposal on how existing legislation could be used to prosecute essay mill advertising.

We understand the challenges presented by legislation, and why education ministers wanted to first explore non-legislative routes. Any legislation would need to apply across the UK and we would encourage dialogue between the four nations in developing proposals.

Whether or not this or other legislative approaches are taken forward, we are clear that it is the companies, not the students, we should target, and that legislation does not work in isolation.

Fighting the essay mills is only part of a much bigger picture. Bogus colleges, fake qualifications and agents who help students to commit fraud all serve to undermine academic integrity and harm the reputation of our higher education sector.

We want to see the establishment of a UK Centre for Academic Integrity, with a formal remit to research, analyse and combat academic misconduct. Beyond the UK, academic misconduct is a global issue, and international consensus on how to tackle it is the ultimate goal.