QAA to crack down on cheats

March 10, 2000

Universities must set clear guidelines on students' use of material downloaded from the internet, under a new draft code of practice on student assessment, writes Phil Baty.

The Quality Assurance Agency's code of practice on assessing students, published in draft for consultation, calls on universities to put in place clear systems to cut down on the myriad ways students find to cheat. But it also places heavy emphasis on universities' responsibilities in the face of a fee-paying and increasingly litigious student body.

The code will become one of six related codes, which together will form a Code of Practice for the Assurance of Academic Quality and Standards. The draft is based on five fundamental principles - transparency, equity, validity, reliability and justice. These will be underpinned by 12 precepts, against which institutions will be judged by QAA reviewers.

The code says that institutions must give students clear guidance on what is deemed academic misconduct. Definitions of plagiarism, collusion, cheating and impersonation should be always be given, and students should be clear about the rules governing the use of the internet.

The code clearly sets out universities' responsibilities to students. "All parts of the assessment process should be explicit and readily accessible to all staff," it says. This should include "descriptors of expected standards of student attainment; what is expected in order to pass or to gain a particular grade or classification".

Weighting of assessment elements, marking and grading conventions, and opportunities for re-assessment must all be spelled out.

The code also demands proper training to ensure that staff are "competent to undertake their roles and responsibilities". This should include learning about new approaches to assessment, and induction for new staff.

The powers of assessment panels and exam boards should be clearly defined, especially where such bodies overlap, as on modular programmes. Universities should consider strategies such as second marking, anonymous marking, sampling and unseen double marking to ensure proper moderation. Institutions should also avoid "assessment overload". Universities should "exercise due economy in the number of assessment tasks they expect staff to set and students to take".

Although universities will be named and shamed according to their adherence to the codes, the QAA said it did not want to be prescriptive or exhaustive. "The agency wishes to encourage innovation and diversity in assessment practices," the code says.

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