Ethics on the agenda

Smuggling your mobile into an exam can be very costly. And many students may not know exactly what the consequences of doing so can be. As Chair of the Disciplinary Board, I’ve noted that the number of these types of cases is increasing – it seems to be a general trend at Swedish universities.

But it is not clear whether this is due to more students cheating in their exams, or seats of learning getting better at performing checks and discovering cheating. Regardless of the reason, the student concerned, who is perhaps not always aware of the consequences, can learn a very hard lesson. Having a mobile phone or cheat sheet with you can result in a warning or suspension from studies for six weeks.

A student can be suspended for a maximum of six months if they cheat again. Other consequences of cheating include a withdrawal of the student’s grant and the student’s actions being recorded in the study documentation system LADOK during the suspension period.

The excuses we hear are often trite and don’t exactly help, as the ability to fully investigate matters have been significantly improved by the use of new technology. Stealing text from someone else is almost impossible, considering the various text-matching tools that are available.

Raising the issue of what is right and wrong in the academic sphere is important; not only for the individual student at the time of the specific course, but also for laying the foundations for an ethical approach that will guide students through their academic careers. Learning is an individual process and it requires time and commitment from the student. That’s why it doesn’t pay to mislead, the term that is used in disciplinary cases.

Of course, having such clear and unambiguous rules in courses and research is important. An atmosphere of openness is necessary for the students and researchers of today and tomorrow, allowing them to dissect what is right and wrong and use each other as sounding boards in discussions on ethics during the course of their careers.

At the start of the summer an updated version of the Swedish Research Council publication “God forskningssed” (Good Research Practice) was released, a document that aims to make it easier for researchers to analyse, evaluate and make ethically-sound decisions. Researcher responsibility, current rules and codes are among the topics covered. At the same time, it is important to examine the roots of unethical behaviour.

The government’s proposal for a new authority to deal with fraudulent research cases was circulated for comment a few weeks ago, and the time for comments has now ended.

Even if such a new authority is established and is expected to be up and running as of 1 January 2019, universities  will continue to shoulder a great deal of responsibility, especially for the prevention of academic fraud. That’s a good thing.

The ethical discussion must be kept alive in the examination hall and in research groups, alike.