Tony Tysome reports on a call for consistent guidelines on punishment
Registrars and the student complaints ombudsman are backing calls for national guidance on cheating and how to punish cheats.
The Academic Registrars Council has been urged to consider creating guidelines for a sector-wide approach to penalising cheating students in a bid to reduce the risk of inconsistent punishments being used as the basis for appeals.
Baroness Deech, head of the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education, added her voice to the plea from academic leaders at Swansea University who claim to have won support from some ARC members. She said the OIA might undertake a national survey of universities' policies on cheating.
Swansea's call for national guidance comes as it faces appeals from some members of a group of 30 Chinese business studies students accused of smuggling notes into an exam. The students claim some are being dealt with more severely than others.
Rhys Williams, Swansea's pro vice-chancellor academic, said: "We are concerned that as students can now appeal to the OIA, they may try to play one institution off against another, claiming their penalty was more severe than another student's in a similar case in another institution.
"We do not want students to be able to use other institutions to strengthen their appeals. We should all be singing from the same hymn sheet in choosing a punishment to fit the crime."
Baroness Deech said: "A cross-sector view on what should be done where students are found to be cheating would be enormously helpful. Some consistency is urgently needed so I hope some guidelines can be put together as soon as possible."
Brian Salter, secretary of the ARC and registrar at King's College London, said plagiarism was one area where institutions' policies could be improved with a clearer definition of what constituted cheating and how it should be handled. But he warned: "What will probably emerge is that institutions will want to deal with this in a way that suits their circumstances."
With student cheating cases apparently on the increase, there was a limit to how much institutions could be expected to do, Mr Salter said. "We are universities, not a police authority."