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Should universities be enforcers or educators?

by Jack Goodman

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Why do students cheat? What should the consequences be for cheaters? Do Australia's universities face a plague of cheating? If so, how should they respond?

These are important questions, particularly as our higher education sector is such a huge part of the national economy.

A national study out of the University of South Australia tells us that about 6% of students engage in cheating behaviour, and that the factors that put students at risk are a dissatisfaction with the quality of teaching instruction and being from a non-English speaking background.

It is not surprising that international students, who are predominantly from non-English speaking countries, who number more than 400,000 at our unis, and who contribute upwards of $37-billion annually to our economy, are more likely to engage in plagiarism. They face both language and cultural challenges that require time and learning to overcome. The question is: do these students need to be punished for breaking the rules or educated about our standards of academic honesty and integrity?

Then I read this article from the Sydney Morning Herald. Apparently at the University of New South Wales, a new approach using software to identify cheating has uncovered a plague of epidemic proportions. And according to the Associate Dean of Education in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, these results show that they need to focus on enforcement because 'deterrence' doesn't work.

Is it true that you cannot teach students not to cheat? If so, then why enrol them and accept their money in the first place? At UNSW, there are more than 13,000 international students. Are they being targeted by this policy?

We take a different approach at Studiosity. The universities we work with believe that, with the right support, every student can become a capable communicator in academic English. Moreover, the feedback we receive from the tens of thousands of students we help every year confirms that constructive, encouraging, personalised feedback, delivered in a timely manner, instills confidence that in turn leads to academic success.

As a sector, Australia's public universities enrol upwards of 1.4-million students. We believe every one of these students deserves the best chance of successfully completing their degree. Because a graduate who has put the work in to earn their degree, who has developed the literacy, numeracy and communication skills, as well as discipline knowledge the degree is intended to signify, should deliver a powerful return on their investment - to themselves, our country, and the wider global community.

Image by Rachel Elaine under flicr cc attribution license

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