A COALITION of 200 United States universities and colleges is drafting a national code of ethics to stop student cheating.
The seven-page document calls for clearer policy, disciplinary measures and tougher prosecution.
Sally Cole, director of the Center for Academic Integrity at Duke University, said: "The focus is on raising the level of student honesty and on trying to help colleges and universities identify ways they can change their campus environments to make it easier for students to be honest."
More than 75 per cent of American students admit to some cheating, according to a Rutgers University study. Even at universities and colleges that already have honour codes, about a third of students admit to copying answers from a classmate in a test.
More than 40 per cent say they have plagiarised someone else's work in a paper or falsified a bibliography. In schools without honour codes, the figures were dramatically higher.
"The single most compelling problem is a peer culture on a campus that sends signals that it is OK to cheat," Ms Cole said.
Dishonesty in society at large has worsened the problem, she said. "It makes it more challenging," said Ms Cole, a former judicial affairs officer at Stanford University.
Colleges and universities began drafting a national code of ethics last year and have held several conferences since to revise it. The document is scheduled to be presented to administrators early next year. If approved, it would go into effect next autumn.
The code is a guideline, not a blueprint for a specific course of action, and "the way in which these principles are expressed in daily life on a particular campus will vary", Ms Cole said.
"The strength of American education is its diversity, so there is no particular route we are advocating as the single way to use these principles. We want to get people to use them as benchmarks."
About one-fifth of colleges and universities in the United States have their own honour codes. These require students to report any cheating they observe.
Many of the rest have academic integrity policies, whose provisions vary widely. Statistics show they are not so effective at preventing cheating, lying, misrepresentation, deception, fraud, forgery and theft.
Concern about cheating has been rising at many campuses. The Center for Academic Integrity, which had 24 member schools when it was founded six years ago, now has more than 200.