1 March 2011

The academic year has begun. Canterbury and Lincoln Universities affected by the earthquake have postponed the start of lectures, but at other universities the term is underway. New students will be advised about academic ethics and warned about the consequences of cheating. Research findings published last year indicate a growth in the frequency of cheating, with more incidents in some universities than others. The majority of detected cases involve international students. But New Zealand is little different from other countries. Two years ago a high profile case involved a senior public servant who had worked in the Prime Minister’s Office, falsely claiming a PhD. Today a case with international profile involves the German Defence Minister who has resigned admitting that his PhD thesis included work that was not his own.

Cheating at university is likely to reflect a pattern of cheating at school. This week’s Ethics Newsline explores a US survey finding that 95% of high school student respondents admitted to cheating in the past year despite the majority acknowledging that cheating was “morally wrong”. Other statistics include 82% claiming to see cheating on homework and 44% seeing others cheating in exams. The researchers state that these levels are unprecedented. “… like international bribery or government bidding scandals, it’s brash, in your face, and widely known.” Students claim that they can find hardly anyone willing to enforce standards.

Our workforce will include graduates with this experience. Practised in deceit, they will bring that deception into the workplace. They will create a “culture of convenience, compromise and corruption for the next generation…”

Agencies should not take it for granted that new appointees have an ethical awareness. Managers must take responsibility for explaining agency standards, ensuring work practices reflect those standards, taking a lead in modelling those standards, and that they challenge any non conformity. That is what the the 6 trust elements, promoted by the State Services Commissioner, are all about.