Find out what Academic Misconduct is and what happens if you are accused of it
As a UCL student you are required to maintain your Academic Integrity throughout your studies. If you fail to do so, UCL could consider your actions to be Academic Misconduct, which can result in penalties being imposed, such as lower marks. If you engage in Academic Misconduct more than once, this will be taken very seriously and could result in the strongest penalties (such as failing your degree or expulsion).
Definitions and Case Studies
Below you will find some of the most common types of Academic Misconduct with Case Studies provided for each definition. The full list of definitions is available in Chapter 6 of the Academic Manual:
Plagiarism is the representation of other people’s work or ideas as your own without appropriate referencing or acknowledgement. This can include instances of copying from a book, journal or website without appropriate references and use of quotation marks, switching key words in a text with synonyms, paraphrasing without acknowledgement, incorrectly identifying quotations, or an incomplete bibliography. This also includes Self-Plagiarism, which is the reproduction or resubmission of any work which you have already formally submitted for assessment at UCL or any other institution.
UCL can detect all forms of Plagiarism very easily via a sophisticated detection system (Turnitin®) which scans work for evidence of Plagiarism against billions of sources worldwide including websites and journals, as well as work previously submitted to UCL and other universities.
Cultural differences might mean that plagiarism can occur accidentally if you have been taught to reference in a different way, so it is important that you are fully aware of UCL’s expectations regarding quotations, referencing, and paraphrasing. If in doubt, please seek advice before submitting the work. Your department can provide guidance on the proper presentation of quotations and referencing.
Please note: You can submit your work to Turnitin to check it for potential plagiarism ahead of submission to ensure your referencing is right. Turnitin does not identify conclusively the level of plagiarism contained in your assessment, but it can identify the level of similarity with other texts. If Turnitin does indicate a high similarity score, then staff are required to investigate this further and make an academic judgment of the exact level of any plagiarism.
Case Study: Plagiarism
Sarah had completed an open book Coursework assignment. Whilst undertaking the assessment she remembered that the topic had been covered in a lecture, and decided to use the lecture slides as a base for her work. She had copied some paragraphs from the lecture slides as it supported the argument in her assignment, and paraphrased some other sections. She did not feel it was necessary to reference this as it was something she had learnt from a lecture.
Outcome: Sarah had committed Plagiarism by not appropriately referencing or acknowledging their Lecturer's material. The penalty in the case was a mark of 0.00% for the assessment.
What should they have done: Sarah should have engaged with the range of UCL Resources available to help improve their referencing skills, and what can constitute Plagiarism.
Collusion is unauthorised collaboration with other people, inside or outside UCL on any assessment.
All work you submit should be entirely your own, and unauthorised collaboration with other students is not permitted. The only exception is where your department has given you permission - if you have any doubts whether you are permitted to collaborate, please check with your department.
Case Study: Collusion
Fred and Samantha had always studied together, and had a Coursework to complete in the same module. The assessment was intended to be an individual task. They decided to collaborate as the topic area was difficult, but tried to switch words and paragraphs around to try and hide the fact they had completed this together. As their work involved data they tried to present this differently in each of their submissions so it would not be noticed.
Outcome: Fred and Samantha had committed Collusion due to their unauthorised collaboration on an individual assessment task. The penalty in the case was a mark of 0.00% for the assessment.
What should they have done: They should have refrained from unauthorised collaboration as the Coursework was intended to be an individual task. They could have instead contacted their department for support on the assessment.
Falsification is presenting or making use of fictitious, altered, or misrepresented data, evidence, references, citations, or experimental results.
This also covers the following:
- Falsification of evidence relating to Extenuating Circumstances claims
- Falsification of assessment submission receipts
- Falsification of/ or manipulating the Word Count of a submission
- Falsification of any other information that could be used to gain an unfair academic advantage
Case Study: Falsification
Jared was finalising his Dissertation, but had realised he was over the Word Count quite significantly and did not know how to reduce the work down enough to avoid a Word Count Penalty without losing key information. He decided to reduce the Word Count by joining up words with hidden characters, and went ahead and submitted his Dissertation. He had heard about doing this from a friend, but was unaware that Turnitin can detect numerous ways that Word Counts can be falsified.
Outcome: Jared had committed Falsification by attempting to Falsify the Word Count to avoid the Word Count Penalty. The penalty in the case was a mark of 0.00% for the assessment.
What should they have done: Jared should have engaged with the range of UCL Resources available to help improve his Academic Writing skills so he could legitimately reduce the Word Count. He could have also contacted his Department for advice.
- Contract Cheating
Contract Cheating is commissioning an assessment from a third party or making use of commissioned work. It is sometimes known as 'Ghost Writing' or use of an 'Essay Mill'. Where there is doubt about the authorship of any assessment you submit, you may have to undertake an Investigatory Viva so your department can decide whether the work is your own or was produced by a third party. UCL takes any instance of Contract Cheating extremely seriously, and has adopted a zero tolerance approach to this resulting in expulsion on the first instance.
Using a Contract Cheating company also carries other high risks, in addition to the risk of losing your place at UCL. There have been instances where students who have used these companies have later been blackmailed or threatened. Data leaks or whistle-blowers will always be an on-going risk, and the use of such services could cause issues for you in the future resulting in your qualification being revoked.
Contract Cheating does not necessarily involve the exchange of money, and whether the Commissioned work is actually used is irrelevant as the act of Commissioning is considered the offence.
Case Study: Contract Cheating
Amanda was suffering with illness for a few days prior to the start of Take-Home Paper assessment. She decided to go ahead with the assessment despite being ill, and struggled to answer the questions effectively due to the anxiety of not being able to perform her best. As a result she decided to use a "Homework Help" website to ask an assessment question she was struggling with. Having received an answer from the site, she used part of the answer but not all of it and submitted the assessment.
Several weeks later she was contacted by her Faculty and was accused of Contract Cheating. This was due to an investigation which had linked the student to usage of the website.
Outcome: Amanda had committed Contract Cheating. This is due to her Commissioning an answer from a third party, which would still be true if she had not used the answer at all (UCL must reasonably assume any Commissioned answer is done so with the intent to use it). The penalty in the case was Expulsion due to UCL's zero tolerance approach to Contract Cheating.
What should they have done: In this instance Amanda should have deferred the assessment to a later date through UCL's Extenuating Circumstances Procedure and undertaken the assessment when no longer ill.
- Online Assessment Misconduct
During any Online Assessment UCL is trusting you not to engage in any unauthorised communication or collaboration with other students or third parties.
Online Assessment Misconduct includes the following:
- Any use of unauthorised material.
- Any unauthorised communication or attempted communication with other students or third
- parties in relation to the assessment.
- Unauthorised discussion or sharing of assessment content with other students or third parties.
- Unauthorised collaboration with other students or third parties.
- Copying or attempting to copy from another student’s work.
- Any attempt to confer with or gain access to the script of any other candidate during the period of the assessment.
Case Study: Unauthorised Communication
Ali had a Take-Home Paper which they needed to complete within a 24 hour window. During the module Ali had been with a peer learning group and together they had completed various assignments. The Take-Home Paper was is an individual task, but as Ali had already worked closely with these peers, Ali didn't see any harm in reaching out to the group about a particular question during the 24 hour assessment window - it was about a topic they had previously discussed as a group. Ali contacted the group but no one replied.
Outcome: Ali had committed Online Assessment Misconduct by trying to engage in unauthorised communication with other students in relation to the assessment. Even though Ali did not manage to communicate, he had attempted to gain an academic advantage by doing so. The penalty in the case was a mark of 0.00% for the module.
What should they have done: Ali should have refrained from attempting to engage in unauthorised communication in relation to the assessment as the Take-Home Paper was intended to be an individual task. Ali could have instead contacted his department for support on the assessment.
- File Sharing
UCL may consider File Sharing as Academic Misconduct when this occurs between students where collaboration is not authorised. This can also include the sharing of assessment content with other students or third parties where this is not authorised.
A common instance of File Sharing is the onward sharing to between one or more students outside of an authorised collaborative group, which can then continue on to even more students in a chain. This puts your fellow group members at risk of also being penalised as a result of any Academic Misconduct arising from the File Sharing.
Case Study: File Sharing
Group A (Jack and Andy) had been authorised to work together on a Group Coursework assessment. They shared files between each other in relation to the assessment as well as the draft version of their Coursework, which was allowed as authorised Collaboration. Andy's friends in Group B (Kate and Jane) had been struggling with the assessment. Andy decided to send them a copy of their draft to give them some ideas to work on, but asked them not to copy it.
Group B ended up trying to work from the draft and adjust it to avoid any similarity. Unknown to Andy, the members of Group B had also shared this on to Group C. As a result, all three Groups' submissions ending up being similar and were flagged for Collusion as a result of the unauthorised File Sharing.
Outcome: All six students involved had committed Collusion as a result of the unauthorised File Sharing. The penalty in the case was a mark of 0.00% for the assessment for all students. However, Andy told the Panel he was solely to blame for the initial Fire Sharing and provided evidence for this which meant Jack was not penalised in this instance.
What should they have done: Andy should have refrained from File Sharing in this instance as it led to a chain of Collusion between multiple groups. Andy should have recommended to his friends in Group B to contact their Department for support on the assessment.
- Examination Room Misconduct
Exam Room Misconduct includes any action which might give a student an unfair advantage in a face-to-face examination. This includes the use or possession of unauthorised books or electronic devices, attempting to confer with other candidates, attempting to tamper with exam papers, or leaving the exam hall without permission. The full list of what constitutes Academic Misconduct in exam halls can be found in Chapter 6 of the Academic Manual, Section 9.2: Definitions.
Case Study: Examination Room Misconduct
Clara was struggling with a question during an Invigilated Exam. She had not put her mobile phone under her desk as instructed, and decided to take this out to look at some of her revision material. An Invigilator spotted her doing this, and her phone was confiscated and she was reported to UCL as a case of Academic Misconduct.
Outcome: Clara had comitted Examination Room Misconduct through the use of unauthorised material during an Exam. The penalty in the case was Expulsion as Clara had previously committed other instances of Academic Misconduct.
What should they have done: Clara should have ensured they read and understood what constitutes Examination Room Misconduct in Chapter 6 of the Academic Manual, Section 9.2: Definitions. This woud have helped ensure they did not have any unauthorised material on their person as this would have removed the temptation to use them.
What happens if Academic Misconduct is found in my work?
Depending on the Academic Misconduct that has taken place, the outcome may be a mark reduction, a mark of zero, failure of the module, or expulsion. A full list of all the potential penalties is available in Chapter 6 of the Academic Manual, Section 9.3.
You may also be invited to attend an Academic Misconduct Panel so that an independent group can decide whether Academic Misconduct has occurred. Please read the Important Information for Students on our Academic Misconduct Panel page to find out more about the process. You may also find it useful to read our Frequenrly Asked Questions page to find answers to some of the most common questions relating to Academic Integrity and Academic Misconduct.
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