Changing the Culture

Developing and Implementing a University-Wide Policy on Plagiarism

J. Smythe

This paper describes the approach taken by the Open University in the UK to develop a plagiarism policy to serve the whole institution. The policy was developed by a project team comprising many different stakeholders drawn from across the range of academic and administrative staff.

An understanding of good academic conduct and what constitutes plagiarism lies at the heart of the learning process. Unfortunately definitions are often imprecise and interpreted differently depending on the level and subject of study. Hence it was not surprising that at the beginning of the project there was a diversity of opinion across the academic body which led to inconsistency in the treatment of students.

The project sought a team of University wide practitioners who would not only develop policy and practice but who would become the disciplinary authorities to implement and enact the policy. From the beginning it was clear that the most important aspect was the education and training of students in good academic practice rather than focussing on identifying and punishing plagiarism, hence the approach followed three main themes: Education, Detection and Process/Penalties. The project was especially complex given the size and disparity of the student population and the number of stakeholders involved. However, it was aided by the centralisation of assessment processes which enabled a central Academic Conduct Services Office to oversee process and ensure quality standards were met.

The project has gone some way to developing standardisation and Academic Conduct Officer decisions are benchmarked and compared. The project sought to change the culture within the University on how plagiarism cases were identified and dealt with. The operation of the policy, the establishment of the central Academic Conduct Services Office and the regular meetings of the Academic Conduct Officers who cascade training and best practice throughout the University all contribute to achieving consistency.

This paper was submitted to the International Integrity & Plagiarism Conference which ran between 2004-2014. The paper was peer reviewed by an independent editorial board and features in the conference proceedings.