The Ethics of Students and the Tolerance of Teachers and Institutions in relation to Academic Fraud in Higher Education

March 1, 2011 to June 30, 2014
40 months

Personal ethics refer to the way each individual judges the morality of human action and the intentions which underpin that morality. More specifically, it relates to the concepts and criteria of ‘good’ and of ‘justice’ adopted by each person in his/her social interactions and which impact significantly on collective welfare when this standardized behaviour is projected onto individuals’ actions. In all likelihood, ethics and moral standards adopted in professional conduct result from the amalgam of influences derived from family upbringing, the national and organisational culture which tolerates fraud (Temple & Petrov, 2004) in formal education, life experiences and the specific demands of each sector of activity or professional context. In the particular case of ethical work practice, university education can play a defining role in consolidating a system of moral values in alignment with a demanding ethical standard. However, it can also stimulate behaviour which is vulnerable to transgression and immoral action. For this reason, studying the ethical standards of students in higher education (HE) and the context in which they occur becomes essential when trying to understand the role played by formal education in the structuring of personal ethics, as a factor preceding and influencing moral behaviour in an individual’s future professional activity (Smyth et al, 2009). In analysing the ethical standards of students in HE, the concept of academic fraud (AF) takes on a central role. It is defined, in this research project, as any moral transgression committed by a student in the context of his/her academic relations and of his/her responsibilities towards teachers, colleagues and the host institution. AF is understood as being every act or conscious omission which may jeopardise justice in the comparative assessment of performances, competencies and knowledge of students among themselves (purchasing work anonymously on the Internet, presenting the same paper in different disciplines, etc. Cf Appendix I). In view of this, and as suggested in this research proposal, it is possible to organise AF into different categories for the purpose of analysis, allowing them to be broken down and interpreted in the light of the classic currents of moral philosophy such as the deontology of I. Kant (1724-1804) or the utilitarianism of J. S. Mill (1806-1873). Besides impacting on the formatting of future behaviour in every domain, AF carried out by higher education students carries, in itself, a moral implication delimited by honesty towards the institution, loyalty towards fellow students, transparency with respect to teachers and individual dignity with regard to self. In this situation, the aim is to assess students’ behaviour and their perception of the limits of morality in the academic context. In acknowledgement of their relevance to ethical reflection, students’ views on the reasons for fraud and the factors inhibiting such behaviour will also be studied. However, this research, which aims to be innovative in the context of its application, also studies how much behaviour is effectively stimulated, inhibited or ignored. As such, it seeks to discover the patterns of tolerance of fraud exhibited by HE teachers and institutions, notably by characterising preventive and punitive action with regard to AF that is put in place by teachers or brought into play by institutions. The same criteria and instruments used to collect students’ views will also be used to collect teachers’ views on the motives and factors inhibiting fraud. This research is to be viewed within the framework of the professional practice of the research team members and, more specifically, the scientific interest which the team’s Portuguese members have devoted to these matters. In particular, the PI for this project proposal (F. Almeida) who is to receive his doctorate in the area of applied ethics in the context of business, and has recently been a member of the Organising Committee of the International Scientific Congress ‘Governance and Management Models in HE’, held at Coimbra Univ. from 3/5 Sep. 2008 [39 articles, 65 authors, 12 guest speakers and representation from 16 countries], Additionally, P. Peixoto is the editor of the Journal Ensino Superior and chaired, from 2006 to 2008, the board of the National HE Union. A. Seixas is a specialist in the HE field and she is currently member of the research project “Success Factors and Dropout in HE in Portugal: A Comparative Analysis". In each case, it is a matter not just of evidence of scientific investment in this area, but also proof of a network of contacts which will enhance the completion of this research proposal. The overall aim of the research entails studying the attitude and views of HE students in relation to situations of academic fraud in HE, in order to identify ‘cultures of fraud’, ‘patterns of tolerance of fraud’ and the motives and the inhibitors of transgression.


Faculdade de Psicologia e Ciências da Educação da Universidade de Coimbra

Ana Maria Seixas
Denise Esteves
Eva Vicente Hernandez
Filipe Almeida (coord)
Paulo Gama
Paulo Peixoto
Ulisses Neves Rafael
tolerance to academic fraud, cultures of fraud, higher education
Funding Entity
Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology