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Although working to the same goal of validating student learning outcomes, academic integrity efforts are experienced differently across the Asia-Pacific region. With the term ‘academic integrity’ and its associated measures rooted in Western philosophy and practice, it’s not surprising that higher education in Australia and New Zealand has developed a particular foothold in this area. But with the growing internationalisation of education to meet 21st century needs, academic integrity, and by extension, research integrity, are earning much greater attention across education markets in South and Southeast Asia, along with Northeast Asia.
Broadly speaking, academic integrity can be defined as “the expectation that teachers, students, researchers and all members of the academic community act with: honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility” (TEQSA). It’s well established that academic integrity is highly beneficial to teaching and learning, but there are cultural factors at play in how academic integrity has been advocated, prioritised and managed. In the push towards more universally-recognised benchmarks to guide global academic collaboration, the ethos of integrity in learning can even be seen to support nation-building of developing countries by fostering the original and critical thinking skills of its graduates.
Let’s explore what is driving academic integrity’s increasing relevance to these emerging academic integrity markets and how it can contribute to growth of the region as a whole.
Perhaps the most obvious driver for academic integrity’s raised profile in recent times is concern over academic misconduct by students during the transition to online and remote learning. The Covid-19 pandemic was a catalyst for the shift towards digital education delivery and it exposed various shortcomings in institutional preparedness, including strategy to fairly assess students in online and asynchronous settings and discourage cheating. Even those institutions already ahead of the curve in adopting digital programs struggled with testing environments that could not be secured by traditional, in-person methods, with stopgap measures such as the reduction or cancellation of high stakes, summative exams evident in the Philippines and Indonesia.
Media across the region has been rife with reports of increased student cheating over the last 2 years of remote learning, including plagiarism, contract cheating and eCheating. You may have noticed an uptick in the incidents at your own institution, or at least adopted additional security measures to avoid academic dishonesty amongst your students. Of course, misuse of technology to cheat cannot be seen to extinguish the many benefits it brings, and any intention by institutions to revert back to wholly in-person and pen-to-paper methods must consider the risks of delaying innovation. Today’s students are digital natives and must be taught digital literacy to encourage responsible, ethical use of technology they will come to rely on in their professional lives; starting with academic goals achieved on their own merit.
Another motivator for institutions in strengthening their approach to academic integrity is the increasing pressure on the education sector from industry to produce graduates that can adapt to a rapidly evolving world and possess the creativity, critical thinking and problem solving skills to devise solutions to society’s challenges. For Asian cultures this is particularly significant, as it means re-evaluating the tradition of rote learning models that have favoured mimicry over original thinking, and thus normalised plagiarism to some degree. Arguably, this model has become less fit for purpose in the modern era. In support of applied learning that reflects professional practice, academic integrity is key to unlocking students’ perceived value of original thought and their capacity to deliver it.
Add to this the growing evidence that early academic habits play a key role in influencing research habits in higher degree research and mindful that research publication is a key driver for institutional growth and rankings, the sector cannot afford to overlook the domino effect that academic integrity has on learning output, civic accountability and even social harmony.
So, how can institutions in Asia Pacific strengthen their approach to academic integrity to future-proof their course offering and fulfill their duty to staff and students? For those with more established academic integrity programs, concentrated in nations such as Australia, academic integrity is embedded into their strategic vision and represented in compliance measures across the ecosystem – for example, similarity-checking software to scan every student submission. Those institutions at the other end of the spectrum may still be in the thick of policy development, training of staff to identify integrity breaches, and figuring out how to scale detection and deterrence of misconduct across all faculties.
In the 2016 Handbook of Academic Integrity, the late Tracey Bretag spoke to the opportunity for emerging markets to learn from the research and trial and error around academic integrity that has already taken place in Australia and New Zealand: “Academic integrity researchers and practitioners in Asia are in the unique position of being able to adapt best practices that have developed over two decades of research around the globe.” One example is the partnership between Australia’s Tertiary Education Quality Assurance Agency (TEQSA) and the International Network for Quality Assurance Agencies in Higher Education (INQAAHE), which seeks to build on existing groundwork made in countries such as Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, through knowledge-sharing.
Exposure to international frameworks for academic integrity and the weight they carry in the global economy have also proved important for progress in academic integrity in Asia, yielding legislation and stakeholder buy-in. India for example, had an academic integrity strategy very much in its infancy prior to 2018. With the realisation that inaction on integrity was holding the nation back, The University Grants Commission enacted the ‘UGC (Promotion of Academic Integrity and Prevention of Plagiarism in Higher Educational Institutions) Regulations, 2018’; lifting quality standards to produce job-ready graduates and remain globally competitive.
Of course, meaningful change doesn’t happen overnight. Government policy is only one piece of the puzzle in building an environment where students and faculty can thrive, as discovered in Indonesia’s efforts to become a world-class university sector. Educators on the front line are also crucial to advocacy of academic integrity and pushing the needle for success. Consider Japan’s Professor Tosh Yamamoto who after seeing academic integrity modelled abroad, has sought to challenge the tradition of student mimicry and expand original thought in Japanese pedagogy. Or look at the Philippines’ Stella Stefany, a Department Chair of Distance Learning, who is championing digital learning as an enabler for authentic assessment and fair learning outcomes.
The point of origin for academic integrity programs throughout history is the crime and punishment model, in which students are reprimanded for misconduct and the consequences are meant to deter them and their peers from breaking the rules. Although rightfully acknowledging the seriousness of academic dishonesty, this reactive approach does little to help students personally identify with academic standards and is unlikely to stop an integrity breach if they have reason to believe they won’t get caught. Nor does this mindset address breaches of integrity that arise from genuine learning gaps as opposed to deliberate intentions to cheat.
A compelling body of research has pointed to the success of educative, proactive approaches for upholding integrity that can intercept learning shortcuts and bad habits before they become patterns of cheating. They involve formative feedback and lessons that focus on building student values and competencies in academic writing, thereby reducing the incidence of citation errors, improving paraphrasing skills, and addressing any ambiguity or barriers to student understanding of what’s expected of them. This premise is what drives Turnitin’s mission to ensure the integrity of global education and meaningfully improve learning outcomes - through products such as Feedback Studio - and why our teaching and Learning Innovations Team have developed a library of resources to help frame your classroom conversations about academic integrity, plagiarism, and what constitutes original writing.
By managing integrity risk in this way, students are far more likely to emerge from their schooling with a commitment to academic integrity beyond the walls of their classroom and act ethically in the workforce. Of course, educators are limited in the time they have to dedicate, and manual methods will not be enough to scale this approach to integrity. As developing nations in Asia build digital infrastructure for the future, technology that will facilitate formative learning opportunities holds the key to helping institutions turn a corner with student misconduct.
There’s no denying that academic integrity measures can be challenging to implement, and explains why developing nations and emerging academic integrity markets struggle with inconsistencies. Investment in integrity programs tends to be split, with more attention usually given to higher-stakes post-graduate outcomes compared to student output in the undergraduate years. It’s problematic because it misunderstands academic integrity for the ongoing journey that it is, and the value of early education.
When academic integrity measures are operating at every level of the ecosystem, expectations are clearer amongst staff and students and get a stronger footing across the different assessments and courses they undertake. Academic integrity means so much more than just catching plagiarism, and building a culture of integrity will breed citizens of integrity that can contribute fully to their country and the region.