How Academic Dishonesty Seeps into the Workplace
How does academic dishonesty of students correlate with honesty in further work? A group of scientists, including Evgeniia Shmeleva, Research Fellow at the HSE Institute of Education, conducted research answering this question. During an open online seminar of a research group dedicated to ‘Academic Ethics in the Educational Context,’ Evgeniia Shmeleva presented ‘Does Academic Dishonesty Seep into the Workplace? Evidence from a Longitudinal Study,’ which was prepared jointly with Igor Chirikov (University of California at Berkeley-HSE University) and Prashant Loyalka (Stanford University-HSE University).
Study Background and the Russian Case
Evgeniia Shmeleva started her presentation by explaining the reasons for the correlation between student cheating and employee dishonesty towards employers. Stating that productivity is an important factor in economic development that is related not only to specific skills of employees, but also to values, in particular, honesty, the HSE Institute of Education research fellow noted that ‘Many studies show that dishonesty in the workplace is negatively correlated with labour productivity. Universities work to foster honesty, ethical values, and help students avoid academic misconduct, such as plagiarism and cheating. And a number of empirical studies indicate that academic misconduct at university correlates with dishonesty in the workplace.’
However, according to Evgeniia, the results of these studies are not always reliable, since they are most often based on cross-sectional data, which means that the attitude to dishonesty is measured once and in a limited sample of universities. In the study ‘Does Academic Dishonesty Seep into the Workplace? Evidence from a Longitudinal Study,’ the researchers relied on longitudinal data, and measurements were made several times among engineering students from a greater number of universities.
‘Russia is an interesting case for this research,’ she says. ‘First, we have a very high coverage of the population with higher education, that is, most employees have the experience of studying at a university (where they may encounter academic fraud). Researchers also point to a fairly low level of labour productivity, and at the same time, there is evidence that we have high prevalence of academic fraud in universities and counterproductive dishonest practices in the workplace. The research focuses on engineering students, as our country is a key supplier of engineering specialists. The research also shows that engineering students are more likely to engage in academic misconduct.’
Research Milestones and Results
The researchers used data obtained in the framework of the SUPER-test project, an international longitudinal project that evaluates the quality of engineering education in Russia, China and India. According to Ms Shmeleva, the sample was conducted in such a way that at first 34 universities were selected randomly, which was followed by a random selection of up to three departments in each university. Up to three study groups were selected in each department; surveys and tests were conducted in each of the selected groups.
‘We analysed the data of 1,134 graduates,’ the speaker explained. ‘We had three waves of research. The first wave—2015 (the beginning of the 3rd year), the second—2016 (the end of the 4th year), and the third-2018 (8 months after graduation). In the third wave, we managed to interview 55% of the participants from the first wave of the study. At the same time, we did not find significant sample shifts as a result of the panel collapse, judging by the key socio-demographic characteristics, as well as the USE scores.’
Attitudes towards cheating and plagiarism, as well as dishonesty at work were the key components to be measured during the study. In the second wave, students answered the questions: ‘If the teacher finds out that the student is cheating on the exam, what do you think he / she should do?’ and ‘If a student is caught for plagiarism, what should the teacher do?’ Respondents could choose one of five options for sanctions, ranging from ‘do nothing’ to ‘give an unsatisfactory grade and report it to the dean's office.’ Many respondents found it difficult to answer this question.
We interpreted this as difficulty in determining a fair penalty due to a lack of information about the situation in which the teacher discovered academic misconduct. It means that students appeal to situational ethics, and research shows that appealing to it is associated with greater tolerance for academic misconduct.
Therefore, the researchers considered students who found it difficult to answer, along with those who choose mild forms of punishment (for example, ‘do nothing’, ‘reduce the grade’ or ‘reprimand’) as students who are tolerant of academic misconduct. At the same time, they discovered that the respondents are less tolerant towards plagiarism than towards copying during an exam: ‘About a third of students believe that in relation to copying, a reprimand is sufficient. In the international literature, this is considered a sign of an extremely tolerant attitude to these practices.’
In the third wave of the study, the researchers assessed attitudes toward dishonesty at work. Here they considered two types of dishonesty: hiding mistakes and passing off someone else's work as their own.
‘We asked: “What do you think an employer should do if an employee hides mistakes made in the work / passes off someone else's work for his/her own?”,’ says Evgeniia. We posed the question and answers in a way they were similar to the survey on academic misconduct. The answers were in a similar gradation from no penalty to severe punishment: from ‘do nothing’ to ‘dismiss the employee.’
The study showed that graduates are slightly less tolerant of passing off someone else's work as their own, with twice as many respondents believing that it is necessary to dismiss an employee for this.
‘We considered the last two answers [with the most severe punishment] as a reflection of an intolerant attitude toward plagiarism and copying," Evgeniia explains. ‘The last two answers about dishonesty at work were also considered an indicator of intolerance.’
The results of the regression analysis indicate that those students who were intolerant of plagiarism express an intolerant attitude toward passing off someone else's work as their own and an intolerant attitude toward hiding mistakes made at work. However, we did not find the correlation between copying and dishonesty at work. This may be due to the greater prevalence and ubiquity of copying.
The study partially confirms the link between academic misconduct and dishonesty at work.
‘This is another study suggesting that it is worth paying attention to the problem of academic misconduct. And since this connection is found, it is probably worth doing something in universities. At the same time, it is not enough to simply create conditions in which copying and plagiarism are difficult to accomplish. We need to create intolerance toward these practices, so that it is subsequently transferred to other contexts, for example, to work,’ Evgeniia adds.
She also noted that this study is the first in Russia to assess the effect of academic misconduct on behaviour after graduation. In addition, for the first time the results are based on longitudinal data. These results are preliminary since the study has not yet been published and undergone anonymous review.
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