Little change in promoting students’ academic ethics

In December 2019, Lithuanian Union of Students (Lietuvos Studentų Sąjunga, LSS) shared the results of the study “Index of Academic Integrity 2019”. The Office also contributed to this study by helping LSS to improve the questionnaire in Spring 2019. By calculating the index of academic integrity, LSS seeks to evaluate the prevalence of academic malpractices and to identify the change in honesty in Lithuanian higher education institutions. The respondents of the study were 2837 students, randomly selected from Lithuanian student card database.

The results of the study show that students’ awareness of academic integrity is gradually increasing. However, academic community still has many problems. According to the respondents, the proper distribution of tasks and their performance in a group, as well as evaluation by professors according to the individual contribution into the tasks remain among the most important problems in attempt to ensure the implementation of principles of integrity and responsibility in the process of studies. Students tend to perform more or perform less tasks than other members of their group, but do not raise questions about their dishonest behaviour. Meanwhile, teaching staff evaluates the work of the whole group as an equal contribution of each group member, so in the long run, students may lose motivation to perform group work.

Higher education institutions still have a culture of copying (approx. 30 percent of respondents answered in the affirmative): 1) the tasks are received in advance from other students; 2) copying from other students during exams or other assessments; 3) using various means during exams and other assessments. However, if compared to previous years, this phenomenon has significantly decreased (54 percent in 2013, 45 percent in 2015, 40 percent in 2017).

Besides, one third of the respondents note that teaching staff is bribed with gifts or money to get better evaluation. However, in terms of the overall academic integrity index, this form of corrupt behaviour (of 12) is the least worrying. According to the data of “Transparency International” of 2018, general index of corruption understanding in Lithuania remains stable since 2015 and it is difficult to see a positive shift.

However, there has been a positive change in dealing with contract cheating, although this problem is still escalated in public space. As a result, there may be a discrepancy between reality and established attitudes. The Office has the right to carry out investigations in this regard and write protocols for contract cheating. According to the amendments of the Code of Administrative Offenses adopted by the Seimas in 2019, the fines for such offences were increased for both natural and legal persons.

The respondents claim that unfair behaviour is encouraged by competition for better evaluation and the students’ core values. Therefore, students adhere to academic integrity more by fear of consequences than by choosing consciously to act more honestly and to respect the academic community. More than 70 percent of the respondents are afraid of being expelled and losing a higher education diploma. Only one third of all respondents believe that preventive measures (such as lectures on academic integrity) have a positive impact on formation of academic integrity. Approximately 60 percent of the respondents acknowledge that an opportunity to do an internship at the future employer is one of the more effective factors to ensure academic integrity. In principle, academic integrity is not a problem that should be solved only by research and higher education institutions because employers have all the conditions to contribute themselves to formation of a culture of public integrity.

Academic dishonesty is encountered in all areas of science. The results of the study show that cases of manipulation of data reliability coefficients (e.g. p-hacking, data masking) or HARKing are more frequent in the areas of biomedicine, physical, technological and social sciences, meanwhile interpersonal relations may lead to higher evaluation for art students.

The index of academic integrity remains stable since 2015. This may imply that academic ethics is still detached from quality of higher education and research, although it should become one of the cornerstones not only in creating an environment of academic integrity in a higher education institution, but also in shaping values of students. On the other hand, the efforts of higher education institutions to promote ethical behaviour in the academic community are ineffective.