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ABC on suspicion of cheating

Cheating is a serious breach of trust in relation to fellow students, the university and society. The university is obliged to react to cheating and attempts to cheat in all aspects of academic activities. In the event of suspected cheating, the case shall be investigated and if the suspicion does not fall away as a result of the investigation, the case shall be submitted to The Central Appeals Committee.

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Examples of cheating

  • Not referring to sources
  • Referring to fictional sources
  • Not clearly marking renderings from others as direct or indirect quotations (paraphrasing)
  • Obtaining a paper from the internet or from other sources and presenting it as one's own.
  • Submitting a paper previously used by another person or by the student himself/herself in another exam or assignment
  • Submitting a paper that has been prepared in whole or in part by a different person than the student himself/herself.
  • Breaking the rules for collaboration and working together
  • Using aids that are not allowed (for example pieces of paper with subject-related information on them, mobile phones, smart watches)
  • Having access to aids that are not permitted (even though they are not used)
  • Including non-permitted academic material in permitted aids
  • Using permitted equipment to use disallowed aids during an examination
  • Obtaining access to assignments/information illegally
  • Complicity in cheating
  • Attempts at cheating may also lead to the same sanctions as actual cheating.

Some common signs of cheating/plagiarism

  • Changes of style in text
  • Text seems familiar / have read it before
  • Mixture of citation styles, lack of citations/references
  • Sources in the bibliography that have not been cited
  • Deficient bibliography
  • Odd formatting and changes in format/style
  • Great variation in academic quality in the text

How does suspected cheating occur?

Cheating can be detected by invigilators, during plagiarism control and by the fact that readers recognize text, miss references, register breach of style or other irregularities.

The examination premises

The invigilators check the examination premises before and during examinations. When an invigilator suspects cheating, the main invigilator is notified who registers the chain of events, takes care of any documentation, informs the Division of Student Affairs (SA) and writes a report on what has happened. SA submits the report to the relevant faculty which is responsible for investigating the case and bringing it before the Central Appeals Committee.

The candidate is allowed to complete the exam, but is informed that the case will be submitted to the faculty.

Papers - Plagiarism control

UiB uses a plagiarism control program that reads through the papers and compares them to text available for online searches on the internet and in UiBs assignment base. The program generates similarity reports that are reviewed manually. It is during the manual control that suspected cheating can be revealed. Reports and hit rates alone never trigger suspicion, they only catch the controller's attention.

Papers that need attention are sent to the department/faculty and, if appropriate, to the appointed Cheating Committee, which investigates and may prepare a cheating case.

Written works - via tutor and examiners

Cheating can occur all in written work. When an examiner/tutor suspects cheating/plagiarism, it is important to immediately safeguard the basis for the suspicion as documentation for the further reporting and case processing The documentation is presented to the course supervisor and administrative manager who arrange for the investigation. At the same time the assessment process must proceed as normally as possible for all of the other students.

Assessments and measures on suspicion of cheating

  • Scope of text similarity
  • Lack of references
  • Lack of a list of references
  • How close to the source the written text is
  • If attempts have been made to conceal the possible cheating
  • The student's place in the course of study
  • Any cheating history. Recurring incidences of cheating count against the student.

Based on the aforementioned documentation, the student is informed in writing of the suspicion, and is invited to an interview with the department regarding the procedure for suspicion of cheating. If the suspicion of cheating is upheld, the case is transferred to the faculty for further processing. The Faculty prepares the case and passes it on to The Central Appeals Committee.

The students' rights on suspicion of cheating

While the department/faculty investigates whether there is cause to initiate a case on grounds of cheating, the student is entitled to access case documents, to explain himself/herself, and to provide his/her opinion in writing and orally, but the student is under no obligation to give a statement. It is important that the student is made aware of this. The student may also use legal counsel or another aide, but any costs at this stage will not be covered by the University.

When the faculty has transferred the case to the Appeals Committee, the student is entitled to use legal counsel lawyer at the cost of the University. The student is entitled access to the case documents and to comment on the case in writing. The student may also request a meeting with the Committee's secretary. If the student is found guilty of cheating, he/she may appeal to the national “Felles klagenemnd for studentsaker” (Joint Appeals Committee for Student Affairs) within three weeks.

Non-mitigating circumstances when dealing with cheating

Attempts at cheating: The Act relating to Universities and University Colleges equates cheating and attempts at cheating.

The student's situation: The requirements are strict for everyone. There is no practice to indicate that the student's background is taken into consideration.

The student was unaware of the rules: The Ministry has nonetheless stated: “In exam and test situations strict requirements apply to students. Each student is responsible for familiarising himself/herself before an exam with what aids are lawful and with the guidelines for their use.” The University is responsible for providing information on applicable regulations and for making relevant information readily available.

Assignment work vs. examinations: All written work that is produced and submitted by the student is subject to the same requirements toward academic integrity and the use of sources.

The Central Appeals Committee

Pursuant to the Act relating to Universities and University Colleges Section 5-1, the university must have an appeals committee. The appeals committee consists of five persons: two university tutors, two students and a chair (who satisfies the requirements for an appeals court judge). The committee assembles approx. once a month and deals with cases of cheating, among other things. When it has been established that cheating has occurred, the appeals committee is authorized to annul the students’ examination, and approval of mandatory activities and courses. It may also decide to bar the student from UiB and from taking examinations at all universities and university colleges in Norway for up to two semesters. Access to annul the examination has no period of limitation (Section 4-7 no. 4 of the University Act). Cheating may thus be brought up and processed with the aim of annulment, even though the uncovered issue is back in time, and the student has left the university. If an annulment decision is made, any diplomas or grade transcripts must be returned to the university (University Act section 4-7 no. 5).

Case preparation for cheating cases

This applies to what the department and faculty shall do when it has been decided to present a cheating case to the appeals committee. For The Faculty of Law and faculties that have centralized processing, everything must be done at the faculty level.

The external elements of a cheating case

A cheating case that goes from a department to a faculty consists of two main elements:

  • A covering letter, in which the department explains the case
  • Underlying documentation

What should be included in a covering letter?

Formalities and general background information

  • Who the student is (name and student number, possible personal I.D. number)
  • The relevant subject(s) (name, code, number of credits)
  • The applicable texts (relate it to the subject description: Compulsory work or exam work)

If (part of) the documentation is Urkund reports

  • Was the issue uncovered through routine control, or otherwise?
  • What does the Urkund report(s) show? (Describe, and explain why you think cheating has taken place.)

If (part of) the documentation is not Urkund reports

  • Attach both the relevant parts of the source text(s) and of the student's text(s).
  • Explain how to read the documentation (how is it cross-referenced between the student's text and the source text(s)?)
  • Make sure that all markup in the text is easy to read, even after it is scanned, posted to ePhorte or processed in other ways (it is not always the case that what is clearly visible to the sender, is just as visible to the recipient).

What the process has been at the department and what has emerged (factual basis)?

  • Explain how the student has been contacted, and whether he/she replied (have letters, emails or other been sent in which the student has been informed of the case?)
  • Has the department had a meeting with the student? When was that? If It took a long time before the meeting was held, what was the reason?
  • What has the student explained? (In writing, in the meeting or otherwise. What arises from the conversation must be recorded as soon as possible.)
  • If the student presents new information, has this been examined and possibly documented? (Applicable such as it is or may be relevant to the assessment of whether there has been cheating or how serious the cheating is.)

Important considerations in a cheating case

The Appeals Committee normally studies these five elements:

  1. Evidence. What does the documentation show, what is the student’s explanation, and what is otherwise known about the actual facts?
  2. Objective guilt. Does what the student has done fall within the cheating concept?
  3. Subjective guilt. Has the student acted with gross negligence or intentionally?
  4. Misunderstanding of the rules. Does the student know the rules, and what did he/she think about his/her approach when the supposed cheating occurred?
  5. Reaction options. What circumstances indicate a strict or a mild reaction?

This can be a straightforward structure for the assessments in the covering letter. How thoroughly one should go into each one varies from case to case, but there are a number that are repeated in many cases.

Evidence is often relatively simple, because the texts give a good picture of what has happened, and there is rarely doubt as to whether it is the particular student himself who has created the text. However, the student should be asked about how she/he worked with the assignment and how the text similarity occurred. When two or more students have collaborated on texts that should be individual, it must be investigated as to how the cooperation has worked. For example, have they worked with each their parts, have they been worked together on everything or have they worked in other ways?

Objective guilt is usually not so difficult, except in borderline cases. For example, it might be when the student has reused text that he/she has delivered before, or when references are given, but they are incomplete or otherwise inadequate. Another case may be where the text similarities are limited.

Subjective guilt is important. This applies,for example:

  • Is the text similarity caused by thoughtlessness?
  • Has the student worked in a way that gives a great risk that it can go wrong?
  • Did the student know that it could be somewhat irregular, but took the chance that it would go well?
  • Did the student copy completely deliberately?

This is not an exhaustive list, but it exemplifies what is important to bring to light.

Misunderstanding about the rules very rarely counts in the student's favour. There is, however, one point that should be covered in the case preparation. Ask the student if he or she knows the rules.

Typical factors in respect of the choice of reaction:

  • New or advanced student?
  • Much or little copying (both relatively and absolutely)?
  • General copying or individual slips?
  • Long sequences of copying or shorter sequences interspersed with own, independent work?
  • Has the student abused other students' trust?

It is not necessary for the department or faculty to recommend a particular reaction, but one should give an assessment of how serious one believes the cheating to be.

The faculty's responsibilities

Once the department has done its work, and has concluded that the case should be treated as a cheating case, it should be submitted via the faculty to the Appeals Committee.

The faculty should review the case and make sure everything is as it should be. If it is not, the faculty must go back to the department and ask for supplementary documentation or assessment. It may also be that the faculty conclude differently than the department, and decides that the case should not go to the committee. The most important thing is that the faculty does this as quickly as possible. It is very unfortunate if a cheating case is left for a long time at the faculty.

Submission to the committee and its case preparation

Once the case has arrived at the committee, the secretariat will check it quickly to ensure that it is complete. The faculty and the department may be asked for more documentation, more supplementary assessments or similar.

The secretariat also sends a formal notification to the student, normally with a deadline of three weeks, and information on the committee meeting where the case will be dealt with. It happens that such deadlines are extended, and that cases are postponed to the following meeting.

If the answer from the student (or the student's lawyer) makes it necessary, the secretariat may also ask the faculty or department for some supplementary information. This is not usual, but may happen.

When the secretariat has finished its preparations, it writes a presentation of the case to the committee. There they go through the facts, what the student has said and how the department and faculty have assessed the case. The members of the Appeals Committee receive this presentation about one week before the meeting. They also get all the supporting documents.

In the meeting, the Committee discusses until it arrives at a decision. Then the secretariat writes a draft of the final decision. This is sent to the chair of the Committee, who approves it with or without changes. Once the chair has signed the decision and returned it to the secretariat, it is sent to the student and/or the student's lawyer.

Chart: Flowchart for cases of plagiarism

Click the chart in the right margin to see a larger image.