On 20 October 2021, the Office gathered approx. 160 representatives of the academic community to the annual conference Ethics in Academic Environment 2021 to commemorate the Global Ethics Day. The attendees of the conference had the possibility to learn more about the guidelines for assurance of academic ethics and equal opportunities in scientific events, how to assess objectively and fairly the group works of students. The students’ representatives shared their insights about tendencies of unethical behaviour in the process of studies and reviewed the challenges of studies related to assurance of academic ethics during COVID-19 pandemic. This year, special attention was drawn to the problems of practice of contract cheating: the study was presented in the conference, where the offer of contract cheating services in Lithuania was overviewed, and the problems related to such services and possibilities to fight this unethical behaviour were discussed.
When Ombudsperson for Academic Ethics and Procedures, Dr. Loreta Tauginienė, was welcoming the attendees, she stressed that the major attention this year has been drawn to promotion and assurance of academic ethics in the process of studies, especially for contract cheating. The latter is regarded as an aggressive form of behaviour, the solution of which is being searched for on the global scale.
The conference was started with the notice about the memo intended to assure academic ethics and equal opportunities in the scientific events. Dr. Eglė Ozolinčiūtė, senior analyst in the Office of the Ombudsperson for Academic Ethics and Procedures, talked about the aspects related to personal data protection, academic ethics policy and communication culture in scientific events. Vilma Gabrieliūtė, Head of Equal Opportunities Mainstreaming Group of the Office of the Equal Opportunities Ombudsperson, explained about assurance of equal opportunities, accessibility, safe and non-discrimination environment in the course of scientific events. It is important to stress that the students in higher education institutions form scientific societies that are also organising events, so, the assurance of academic ethics and equal opportunities during such events is very topical.
Kamilė Kapočiūtė-Sabaitienė, senior specialist in the Office of the Ombudsperson for Academic Ethics and Procedures, shared the information how it is possible to assure objective and honest evaluation of group works. The report relevant to promotion and assurance of academic ethics in the course of studies was read by Dr. Eglė Ozolinčiūtė, who presented the results of the study conducted by the Office this year about offer of contract cheating services in Lithuania. The review of advertisements for contract cheating services in four websites of goods and services of choice revealed that there is certain “grey zone”, where people are communicating about various services and sometimes they integrate such words as assistance or consultation; however, the named (or concealed) prices of services allow presuming offer of contract cheating services.
The first part of the conference ended in the presentations of the representatives of Klaipeda State University of Applied Sciences, Dr. Ilvija Pikturnaitė, and Lect. Robertas Kavolius, about the students’ opinion about sale and purchase of the academic works (otherwise called contract cheating). The presentation was based on the study “Prevention of sale and purchase of academic works in development of academic integrity: approach of students” that was financed by the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport of the Republic of Lithuania. The study was conducted in cooperation of Klaipeda State University of Applied Sciences with Vilnius University of Applied Sciences, Panevėžys University of Applied Sciences, Šiauliai State University of Applied Sciences, and Utena University of Applied Sciences.
President of the Lithuanian Student Union, Vytautas Kučinskas, presented the study prepared by his colleague Joana Jasilionytė about the Academic Integrity Index in the second part of the conference. The survey of Academic Integrity Index has been carried out every two years since 2009. The results of this survey revealed the changing tendencies – positive change was noticed in case of plagiarism and cheating in exams, where the Academic Integrity Index has been growing every year; however, the negative change was noticed in the falsification area, where the Academic Integrity Index has been falling down tendentiously. The results of the survey of Academic Integrity Index show that the most often, academic dishonesty is manifested in the study process when team (group work) tasks are performed, when one or several members of the student group do not do their part of the work but receive the same evaluation as the remaining group members. The contract cheating is also very popular, when other persons help to do the whole work or its part, when the laboratory work, survey or other research is not conducted or is incomplete, or when the data are created (fabricated).
President of Student Representative Office of Vilnius University, Neda Žutautaitė shared her experience about efforts to promote academic ethics in studies during COVID-19 pandemic. She stressed that compliance with academic ethics remains relevant for organisation of online studies, as well.
The attendees of the conference were invited to join discussion “Contract cheating: not a thief if not caught” started by the representative of the Lithuanian School Student Union, Paulius Buivolas. He stressed that understanding of academic ethics is formed at school, so, the first skills to comply with academic ethics have to appear not in the higher education institution. Deimantė Žemulytė, representative of the Lithuanian branch of Transparency International, talked about the initiatives carried out by Transparency International at schools to promote academic ethics. Neda Žutautaitė from Student Representative Office of Vilnius University emphasized importance of the student’s personal involvement in the study process and called to take interest in the reasons, why students make certain decisions, and to consider how it would be possible to expand the examination forms and to apply more versatile modes of testing. The ombudswoman shared international tendencies in attempts to restrict contract cheating in the online space, especially harnessing legal measures. She drew attention to the fact that legal measures are provided not only in Lithuania, but they are already applied in the United Kingdom and Australia.