Academic integrity is critical to the reputation of higher education, including the recognition of the graduate's academic learning and qualifications and the institutional practices related to academic leadership. It can be defined as 'compliance with ethical and professional principles, standards, practices and consistent system of values, that serves as guidance for making decisions and taking actions in education, research and scholarship'.
It incorporates best practice in all areas of academic endeavour for enrolled learners. This includes but is not limited to all third level activities related to academic credit for awards; all methods of learning practice including in the classroom, research, online, distance, in assessment practices, and in academic scholarship.
"Academic integrity is the commitment to, and demonstration of, honest and moral behaviour in an academic setting". It assumes that all interactions with their higher education institution and their staff are approached with honesty. This includes all documentation submitted for academic purposes. Demonstrating academic integrity lies with the enrolled learner.
The International Center for Academic Integrity ICAI has defined academic integrity as "a commitment to five fundamental values: Honesty, Trust, Fairness, Respect, and Responsibility underpinned by a sixth value, Courage which is needed to act on them even in the face of adversity."
The purpose of assessment, both formative and summative, is to ascertain understanding and demonstrate the achievement of specific learning outcomes.
It is the responsibility of the enrolled learner to ensure that all submitted work for assessment purposes in an academic setting, which includes but is not limited to, text, graphics, tables, formulae, or any representation of ideas in print, electronic or any other media, in addition to artefacts, computer software and algorithms, correctly acknowledges the source of any data which is not original to the learner.
It is the responsibility of staff to enable assessments which are valid, mitigate against cheating and reflect real learning progress or achievement. Feedback as encapsulated in appropriate grading schemes or as given in response to assessed submitted material is key in fostering further learning and supporting the learner in achieving their goals. Where cheating is suspected with due cause, this should be reported according to the institutional procedures in a way which is both consistent, transparent and fair to all learners.
Academic misconduct has been proposed by the National Academic Integrity Network to be defined as:
'Morally culpable behaviours perpetrated by individuals or institutions that transgress ethical standards held in common between other individuals and/or groups in institutions of education, research, or scholarship'.
Technological developments have driven changes in both the nature of academic cheating and in the level of detection rates, both nationally and internationally.
Contract cheating is a term used to refer to the practice of companies that sell bespoke assignments, essays and theses which learners may then submit for assessment, as their own work. These companies are often referred to as 'essay mills'. Some of these companies have recently been identified as engaging in blackmail and extortion practices against students who have previously bought assignments from them – both to current students and to graduates.
In the amended QQI Act, which came into effect in November 2019, 'providing or arranging the provision of an assignment that an enrolled learner is required to undertake as part of a programme, without authorisation from the person making the requirement' is an offence. It is also an offence under this legislation to provide or advertise cheating services.:
A new provision was included in the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Act 2019 which was enacted in July 2019.
Section 43A of the legislation specifically empowers QQI to prosecute those who facilitate academic cheating. The provisions can be summarised as follows:
Undertaking in whole or in part any work required as part of a programme in the place of an enrolled learner, without permission from the provider;
Sitting an exam, or having someone else sit an exam, in place of an enrolled learner, without permission from the provider.
Provision of Cheating Services
Providing answers, or arranging the provision of answers, to an enrolled learner for an exam, during the course of that exam, without permission from the provider;
Providing, or arranging the provision of, an assignment required of an enrolled learner without permission from the provider;
Before an exam, providing answers for, or arranging the provision of answers for, an exam for an enrolled learner without permission from the provider.
Advertising Cheating Services
Advertising the provision of assignments for learners where this has not been authorised by the provider;
Advertising the undertaking of assignments (in whole or in part) on behalf of an enrolled learner or sitting an exam, or having someone sit an exam, in place of an enrolled learner, where this has not been authorised by the provider.
Publishing Advertisements for Cheating Services
Publishing an advertisement for the provision of exam answers to learners during the course of an exam where this has not been authorised by the provider;
Publishing an advertisement for the provision of assignments or exam answers in advance of an exam to an enrolled learner where this has not been authorised by the provider.
QQI is responsible for bringing prosecutions in respect of each of these offences which can attract penalties ranging from fines of up to €100,000 per offence and/or prison sentences of up to 5 years, depending on the nature of the offence.
The facilitation of learner cheating by "essay mills" has been recognised by QQI as a growing threat to the integrity of Irish education. Through various education, awareness raising and prevention strategies, working in partnership with staff and students, it is hoped that the spread of any malpractice of this kind can be stemmed in Irish HEIs through both enhancement activities and education re the dangers to learners of engaging in this type of malpractice.. This will then protect the overall reputation and integrity of the Irish higher education system.
Repository of Resources
Please find here Resources to Support Remote Learning, Teaching and Assessment Upholding Academic Integrity for Tertiary Education Providers during the COVID-19 Pandemic, compiled to include national and international resources to support academic and professional staff and students working in a remote teaching and learning environment and upholding academic integrity during the COVID19 pandemic. The Repository is updated in a regular basis.
Update and Next Steps for 2020- 2021
QQI established a National Academic Integrity Network,(NAIN) in November 2019, which has set up three working groups to focus on specific the NAIN objectives..
Dr Padraig Walsh, CEO of QQI, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with TEQSA (Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency), our Australian sister agency, in 2019. This MoU builds on the existing working relationship between the two agencies, with specific commitment to exchange information and offer professional advice about academic fraud and contract cheating, in order to protect the academic integrity within each other's jurisdiction.
QQI is proactively engaged with projects at EU level in this area to ensure that Ireland is at the forefront of initiatives to collaboratively address the challenges presented by online academic fraud. Dr Deirdre Stritch, Academic Integrity Lead at QQI has represented Ireland at a Council of Europe meeting which reported on the extent of academic malpractice in Europe and the steps being taken by different countries to prevent and detect it.
Communications activities informed by the NAIN Communications Working Group, will be implemented to target providers and learners across the HE sectors to provide enhancement opportunities in relation to academic integrity for both staff and students,
QQI, in collaboration with the NAIN, are developing several enhancement tools and initiatives to support education providers in providing supports for students and staff in upholding academic integrity and further fostering a culture of academic integrity in their institutions. Two of these, National Principles and Lexicon of Common Terms and Academic Integrity Guidelines, were recently launched by the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.
QQI is currently engaged in a project including extensive public consultation in relation to the Assessment of Learners and Learning which is very relevant in the context of academic cheating. A Green Paper was published in 2018 and discussion events were hosted separately for the HE and FE sectors. QQI published a report on the stakeholder response in May 2019. Work is ongoing on this project.
QQI is currently collaborating on an international project involving peer agencies and HEIs on detection and analysis of academic cheating.
 NAIN Lexicon of Common Terms
 ICAI Fundamental Values of Academic Integrity, 2nd ed 2014
 Qualifications and Quality Assurance (education and training) (amendment) Act 2019