Standardise penalties for cheats

July 9, 1999

Surely, both Gordon Pearson and Staffordshire University were in the wrong in their handling of the plagiarism cases (Whistleblowers and Opinion, THES, July 2)?

It is right to argue that the role of the external is to allow a level of comparability in academic standards between institutions and that where the issue is a candidate's academic performance, the examining board should accept the external's view as pre-eminent. (Allowing, of course, that in the case of real dispute, resort can be made to a second external.) But on the same principle (establishing comparability of standards) the board must not be permitted to decide the penalty for cheating.

The point being that when cheating is discovered we are no longer dealing with academic standards at subject level but with standards and just procedures at institutional level. The alternative would be to allow - as presumably Staffordshire must - different penalties for the same offence in one institution. Institutions do not need the external to tell them cheating is unacceptable but they do need just and equitable means for dealing with it.

Plagiarism and other unfair practice should be the business of an institutional board, with its procedures and actions the subject of internal and external quality review alongside all other aspects of academic and administrative function. Again, it should be possible in external audit to develop sector-wide principles and practices to ensure that shared values are realised in responsible procedures from Falmouth to Dundee.

Andrew Morgan, Swansea.

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