Integrity essential to maintaining high standards in education

By Cecilia Anthony Das
                                                                                      

The world has witnessed the collapse of Barings Bank and the recent financial turmoil caused by the subprime mortgage crisis. All these financial ‘tsunamis’ are the result of the same phenomenon – lack of integrity.

According to the online Oxford Dictionary, ‘integrity’ is defined as the ‘quality of being honest and having strong moral principles’.

All the financial failures and turmoil witnessed by the world in recent history resulted in the enactment of numerous disclosure legislations and regulations to avoid occurrences where integrity is compromised.

In a similar vein, academia also revolves around the concept of integrity – academic integrity.

The notion of academic integrity stems from the fact that intellectual property needs to be given its due respect and recognition. Tangible property is well protected by current existing laws and it has been well established that punitive measures will be taken against a perpetrator for infringement of tangible rights.

However, an intangible right, due to its nature of not being easily indentified, is easily infringed and goes unnoticed. Recognising such dilemma, the cultivation of academic integrity becomes essential.

The Center for Academic Integrity (CAI) defines academic integrity as an issue involving commitment, even when faced by adversity to five fundamental values: honesty, trust, fairness, respect and responsibility.

It is believed that these values will translate into behaviours which enable the academia to translate ideals to action. Hence, having in place strong standards of integrity within a tertiary setup allows students to have strong integrity foundations that will prepare them for conscientious citizenship in the foreseeable future.

At Curtin, a Curtin degree symbolises prestige to the world as it is a testimony to the fact that all of the university’s values has been upheld in the pursuit of obtaining the degree. This fact is central in upholding academic integrity principles when delivering the courses in Curtin. All the policies and principles set out are to be adhered to by both faculty and students alike.

Plagiarism is a serious and common breach of academic integrity. Plagiarism occurs in various contexts which includes verbatim copying of materials from other sources without proper referencing, closely paraphrasing without acknowledgment of its source, and passing off someone else’s work as one’s own.

Such offences are taken seriously and severe action could be taken against a student. Students are taught to reference materials appropriately and understand the repercussions of not complying with the policies and procedures that are in place.

The faculty is able to determine a breach of academic integrity through the usage of Turnitin, a system which matches text from a students’ work against all resources available through the Internet, published works, commercial databases and records of previous submissions of students worldwide into its system. The system is able to state the rate of similarity that the work of a student contains. However, the faculty is still required to review the results and assess the level of breach to academic integrity that has occurred.

Students need to imbibe such principles of integrity into their beings to be better individuals. Severe action taken in light of breaches of academic integrity is to drive home the message that cheating does not benefit students. If such deeds are not reprimanded, they will grow to become something bigger in the future. After all, education is not only about knowledge, but also about values and principles of life.

Cecilia Anthony Das is the Postgraduate Coordinator for Curtin Sarawak’s School of Business and a lecturer in its Department of Accounting. She can be contacted at +60 85 443860 or by e-mail to cecilia.das@curtin.edu.my.

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