The complex problem of academic dishonesty among international students
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The complex problem of academic dishonesty among international students

The complex problem of academic dishonesty among international students

These days, faculty outbursts tend to focus on two things: international students and cheating.

In the most recent occurrence, a University of Maryland business professor resigned after it was reported he accused a group of Chinese students of cheating on the final exam in their forensic accounting class. At the University of California, Santa Barbara, some faculty members voiced their concerns over the higher rates of cheating among Chinese students.

Analysts say these aren’t isolated incidents, which brings us to the next question: are international students really prone to cheating more?

Research findings are mixed. A 2016 study of more than 100 UK universities by The Times found that non-EU students were four times more likely to be caught cheating than UK and EU students. In the US, they were found to be five times as likely to be caught cheating than their local peers, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of data from 14 leading US colleges.

Earlier this year, a Times Higher Education survey found 42 percent of 230 academics believed international students were more likely to use essay mills, compared with only 8 percent who identified domestic learners to be the likeliest to cheat.


A survey of 4,086 students and 1,147 staff in Australia found otherwise. Domestic students from non-English speaking backgrounds are just as likely as international students to engage in contract cheating – defined as paying a third party to undertake assignments they then pass off as their own. It shows that cheating is less influenced by students’ nationalities than it is by the type of assignments. Both students and teachers reported that assessments with short turnaround times and a heavily-weighted final mark were perceived as most susceptible.

Unique hurdles

Academic honesty is a problem that affects all students. For international students, anecdotes point to a host of unique factors that encourage cheating. Chiefly, it is said that having English as a second language, family pressure to succeed and unfamiliarity with Western academics combine to make cheating a bigger temptation among this student demographic.

According to Tracey Bretag, Director of Academic Integrity at the University of South Australia Business School, international students struggle with English at university because they have been admitted on requirements that were too low. Most international students are required to score a minimum of 5.5 or 6 for IELTS (International English Language Testing), which grades students from one to nine. Domestic students usually score a 9.

“[A six] is not adequate for the linguistic manipulation you need for academic writing,” Dr Bretag told Times Higher Education.


“We set them up for failure, knowing that they will need more support and a lot more training…and they don’t have time to access any non-mandatory support that is on offer,” she said. “Then, on top of that, we have unscrupulous, marketing-savvy essay mills that target those vulnerable students.”

The pressure from family to get into and succeed in foreign universities adds to the problem as well. The South China Morning Post reported that “an estimated 90 percent of all recommendation letters for Chinese applicants to United States universities are fake. Some 70 percent of application essays are not written by students, and 50 percent of grades transcripts are falsified.”

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