Director of studies: important to report students who cheat
“It is important to report it”, says Maria Bangura director of studies at the School of Social Work. “Departments have a great responsibility to ensure that students have the required skills when they head out and start working with people in difficult situations. It is serious if they cheated their way through the programme.”
The Swedish Higher Education Authority recently released a report with statistics on the number of disciplinary measures taken at all of the higher education institutions in Sweden. These have more than doubled between 2015 and 2018 and the increase primarily applies to the smaller higher education institutions. Those that have taken the most measures against cheating are Mälardalen University and Södertörn University. At these universities, 1.08 per cent of the students are reported, while the figure at Lund University, Uppsala University and the University of Gothenburg is a lot further down the list with fewer students reported – with Lund University sitting on 0.25 per cent.
“It is important to remember that we do not know how many students are cheating, only how many are detected and reported”, says Maria Bangura.
However, the figures make it clear that more cheating is reported at the smaller higher education institutions. One possible explanation is that the large universities have stricter entry requirements, which means that the students have better qualifications. Students who are relatively less qualified are overrepresented when it comes to cheating. Students from other cultures are another group that is overrepresented when it comes to cheating.
“It might be the case that students with a first language other than Swedish, in some cases, have felt pressured by the writing which has led to plagiarism”, says Maria Bangura.
According to the Swedish Higher Education Authority’s report, the most common form of cheating, plagiarism, is followed by unauthorised collaboration and unauthorised aids, in most cases a mobile telephone. A small number of cases relate to sexual harassment, disrupting activities and falsifying documents.
The most common disciplinary measure is suspension for six weeks, and during this time, the student is not permitted to access the University premises, use the library or have any contact with their lecturers.
“It is subsequently challenging for the student to catch up on what they have missed during the suspension”, says Maria Bangura.
The School of Social Work is a large department with many students and Maria Bangura, as the director of studies, assists course directors to submit reports to the Disciplinary Board at Lund University if a student is suspected of cheating.
“It is often an agonising process for the students. Sometimes they take approved leave from studies as soon as the report is made and thereby avoid having to explain why they have suddenly disappeared”, she says.
At the School of Social Work, it usually takes one to two weeks from when a suspicion is documented until the department submits a report. However, it then takes approximately six months before the overburdened Disciplinary Board assesses it and takes a decision in the matter. The long processing times are difficult for the student, who often experiences it as an additional punishment to have to wait for a decision for such a long time. However, if a student is suspected of cheating at a late stage of a programme the long processing times can actually be to the benefit of the student.
“In those cases, they sometimes have time to complete their programme before they are suspended. And that is frustrating for us”, says Maria Bangura.
The departments also have a responsibility and must be able to demonstrate that the student was informed about what is permitted and what is not. Therefore, students are informed several times during the programme at the School of Social Work about academic integrity and what is prohibited or, quite simply, cheating. For this reason, written and oral information on plagiarism and other kinds of cheating is given in all courses at the School of Social Work.
The course in academic writing is also an important part of this. All assessed assignments are checked with the computer program Urkund, to detect potential plagiarism. However, now there are also paid online services through which it is possible to purchase essays produced in such a way that they get through Urkund undetected. New possibilities for cheating are constantly emerging through new technical solutions.
“We have to continuously develop our work against cheating. Our social workers have to have the right skills and must not take shortcuts – in their work, they have to take honest, informed decisions concerning people in difficult situations”, says Maria Bangura.