Academic Dishonesty Among Undergraduate Students At One University In Kenya. Causes And Mitigations

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2021

12 Pages



Recent empirical studies indicate that cheating by college students is prevalent in many countries. More is known about the pervasiveness of college cheating than reasons why students cheat and how the vice can be mitigated. This article presents findings of a study that attempted to explore academic dishonesty among undergraduate students at One University in Kenya. The study employed stratified random sampling technique to obtain 200 student respondents from the Main and the Town campuses of One University in Kenya. The strata were the various schools/faculties at the University. The study was conducted between the months of June and July in 2017. Grounded on the Theory of Reasoned Action, the study focused on establishing the methods used by students in cheating in examinations, the reasons as to why the students cheat in examinations and suggesting ways in which this vice can be minimized. Data were collected by the use of a students’ questionnaire. Partial least squares methodology was used to analyze the responses of students. The results showed that creative and innovative techniques (peer cheating and using crib notes) were the main cheating methodologies employed by students. Sixty four percent of the students admitted to such behavior. Among the ‘cheaters’, a ‘desire to get ahead’ was the most important motivating factor. It was also found that participants believed that even if preventive measures were taken, it was not possible to stop academic cheating entirely at the University although it could be deterred to a certain extent. It was suggested that similarity in the implementation of examination rules and regulations by lecturers would help deter the vice. Alongside, the study revealed that support in terms of training was needed to deal with academic dishonesty at the University. Understanding reasons as to why students cheat in their examinations can be helpful in developing student values and coming up with better ways of ensuring that the culture does not spread and damage the quality of higher education.

Key words: Cheating, Ethical behavior, Student dis-honesty, Student misconduct, Theory of Reasoned Action

1. Introduction

The first thing to recognize about cheating is that vast majority of students believe that cheating is bad, yet, there are still many who practice it. Cheating in school is called academic dishonesty. There are types of academic dishonesty according to D. Stuber- McEwen (2009). This includes fabrication, plagiarism, multiple submissions, and abuse of academic materials, deception and misrepresentation, electronic dishonesty and carelessness. According to the American Counselling Association (2005), among current college students, 75% admit to cheating on tests, quizzes, and homework. Students cheat because of a grade-focused environment (Anderman, 1998). This occurs when students give more emphasis on earning good grades instead of learning. When students cheat, their sense of determination between right and wrong changes, in other words, the more one cheats, the easier it becomes to rationalize one’s behavior and cheat again which Shu, Gino, and Bazerman (2011) were pointing out. Cheating has been on the rise in recent years, according to a 2010 study from Josephson Institute of Ethics. As to DOSCST’s Code of Honor states /ought a student not to lie, to cheat, or to steal in any academic endeavours. If caught, invalidation of the answer sheet/examination paper is the minor punishment. The researchers were alarmed to this noticeable circumstance. So, the researchers are encouraged to conduct a study about this. In the process of doing the study, the researchers were able to define cheating, pinpoint the reason(s) behind cheating, identify whether cheating is a product of laziness or some other circumstances, and determine the ways on how students cheat. It is desired that the bottom line of this study would contribute to the understanding of the students’ behavior towards studying.

Students who are desperate to pass the evaluation test without stressing out too much of them resolve to the most confiding yet imperiling act of cheating. Cheating has been an inevitable and a common undying impediment among schools and universities. McCabe (1992) surveyed a sample of 6,097 students and found out that 67 percent of the target sample admitted cheating. Cheating, as a form of academic dishonesty, had become a widespread culture among students in either private or public institutions. Among college students, percentage of cheating ranges from 9 percent (Davis et al., 1992) to 95 percent (McCabe & Trevino, 2002). Symaco and Marcelo (2003) pointed out that academic dishonesty is an unceasing problem despite of the efforts the institution put to get rid of it. Weaver, Davis, Look, Buzzanga, and Neal (1991, p. 302) defined academic dishonesty as “a violation of an institution’s policy on honesty”. William L. Kibler defined academic dishonesty as “forms of cheating and plagiarism that involve students giving or receiving unauthorized assistance in an academic exercise or receiving credit for work that is not their own.” Burke (1999) said that cheating is “intentionally using or attempting to use unauthorized materials, information, or study aids in any academic exercise”, and plagiarism is “intentionally or knowingly representing the word of another as one’s own in any academic exercise”. Earl Babbie noted that “presenting someone else’s words or ideas as your own – in any form – constitutes plagiarism”. Cizek (2003) states that cheating behavior falls under three categories: (1) “giving, taking or receiving information”, (2) using any prohibited materials” and, (3) “capitalizing on the weaknesses of persons, procedures or processes to gain an advantage”. In 1993, in a study conducted by Who’s Who among High School Students among high achievers found out that “nearly 80% admitted to some form of dishonesty, such as copying someone else’s homework or cheating on an exam”. According to Murdock and Stephens (2007), one who copies tend to consider their behavior acceptable is when they see others copy and cheat regularly and does not take the action seriously. Von Dran, Callahan, & Taylor (2001) wrote that academic dishonesty “is defined in the literature as intentionally unethical behavior.” Variety of reason why students engage in cheating is because of competitiveness of their major, course difficulty, the need for professional success, cynicism and that other students cheat (Chop & Silva, 1991; Davis, 1992; Fass, 1986; Mixon, 1996; Simpson, 1989). According to Russell, Roberts and Radziejowska (2011) on their journal Dishonesty in the MRCP (UK) Part 1 and Part 2 Written Examinations, stress and pressure for good grades are the given reasons for cheating and cheating is seldom detected and when it is, action is rarely taken.

A student's decision to cheat may be unintended due to first, ambiguous perceptions. Perceptions about what qualifies as cheating vary greatly from one student to another. While most students will call plagiarism cheating, many of them will define it in a way that allows them to indirectly copy the work of others (Ainsworth, Bannister, & Thorn, 1997). The second reason relates to competitive pressures to perform placed on students. With so much pressure to stand out, some students may, given the opportunity, sacrifice integrity at the altar of success (Finn & Frone, 2004). The third reason concerns Institutional apathy. Many students are likely to cheat if they do not see the academic environment as one that deserves their honesty (Genereux, & McLeod, 1995). Lack of respect for the institution also prevents students from reporting instances of dishonesty they see around them. The fourth reason relates to the lack of understanding as to what constitutes cheating as most students probably do not read the rules. This lack of understanding may lead students to cheat without being aware that they are cheating or in a way that isn't known to be called cheating (Umali, ukpepi & Enukoha, 2013). Lastly, ‘self-interest’ is the final category but would appear to encompass all cheating. Students hope to see a return on their investment of time and resources in college. Therefore, watching someone else make a better grade through cheating might be painful. With only his or herself in mind, cheating is hard not to justify especially when one can go undetected (Miller, Shoptaugh & Wooldridge, 2011). While some students are caught cheating, many succeed in evading detection. It is important to understand why students commit academic fraud and plagiarize material if only we wish to reduce such incidents.

Operationally, academic dishonesty may be defined as ‘any behaviour, in the student's learning process, that violate the principles of justice and fairness, in order to achieve the goal of getting higher grade or some specific credential, such as cheating on tests, copying assignments and plagiarism (Lin & Wen, 2007). Thus, academic dishonesty takes many forms: a whole world of cheating and plagiarism (Decoo, 2002), which will necessitate the development of specific regulations for students who cheat using contemporary technology.

Examination malpractice is detrimental to academic development and advancement. This needs to be drastically addressed if we have to restore the lost glory in education. Examination malpractice is an illegal or unethical behaviour by someone in the process of testing an examinee’s ability or knowledge by means of questions (Ikupa, 1997). Institutional arrangements require certain norms known and practiced as the code of conduct of examinations designed by authorities concerned with examining the candidates for the specific examination to ensure absolute integrity of the results. In occasions where these rules are boycotted either by the teachers or learners, they lead to examination malpractice. This pollutes the results of the students in examination and poses a great threat to the validity and reliability of examination results and certification.

2. Statement of the Problem

Regardless of the fact that academic dishonesty is unethical, more and more students still engage themselves in cheating. Though students know that cheating is against the rules, they realize that cheating is acceptable and can be justified as being due to “peer pressure” to copy (McCabe et al., 1999). Also, one of the aspects of neutralizing cheating behavior is that “everyone copies” (Pulvers & Diekhoff, 1999). A report by the academic registrar of the University in Kenya presented during the university Senate meeting in April 2017 was shocking. A number of students had faced the disciplinary committee on grounds of academic dishonesty. The charges that they faced ranged from smuggling small written pieces of paper into the examination room to using mobile phones to check for answers from the internet. Good grades in any examination mean opportunities for further education and entry into the world of work, but only if the value systems of our youths are well constructed through the examination ethics. Regrettably, the general emphasis in our society today is on materialism, bribery, corruption, sexual promiscuity, deception, violence and a host of other social vices which have extended to the academic arena. It is in this context that Aina (1996) asserts that, ethics and integrity are the solution to all the examination ills the reasons as to why students continue to engage in dishonest academic practices yet they know that it’s an evil practice necessitated this study.

3. Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to examine the reasons undergraduates’ students of One University in Kenya cheat in examinations and steps that can be taken to mitigate against this unethical practice.

4. Objectives of the Study

The specific objectives of the study were to: -

i. Establish the forms of cheating among undergraduate students in One University in Kenya.
ii. Investigate the reasons why undergraduate students cheat in Examinations at One University in Kenya.
iii. Suggest ways in which academic dishonesty among undergraduate students can be minimized at One University in Kenya.

5. Research Question

i. What forms of cheating do undergraduate students use at One University in Kenya?
ii. Why do undergraduate students cheat in exams at One University in Kenya?
iii. In what ways can we mitigate against the practice of cheating among undergraduate students at One University in Kenya.

6. Justification

This study was necessitated by the fact that despite cheating being an evil practice, a vast majority of students engaged in the practice which if not checked can greatly compromise the academic standards of institutions of higher learning. A report released by the academic registrar at the One University in Kenya on the number of students caught while cheating during the exam period was a wakeup call that something is not right hence this study was conceptualized.

7. Significance

This study is significant in a number of ways: First, understanding why students cheat in examinations is particularly important in designing rules to prevent its occurrence given that cheating is not only widespread but also on the increase. In any event, it is through understanding the prevalence of cheating that authorities can realise the extent to which the problem has grown and the need to address it. Second, the study is likely to attract great interest within educational institutions, the society and education authorities in reconsidering the problem a new by formulating appropriate policies which will promote ethical behaviour and thus prevent examination malpractices. Third, having known the factors that influence examination malpractices, authorities may endeavour to mitigate against such factors to ameliorate their effects and encourage students to be more honest. Also, the findings of the study are likely to compel administrators to come up with counselling and guidance interventions to help any student caught cheating. Lastly, the findings of the study are likely to compel institutional leadership to establish integrity standards and practices across campus. In turn, this will reduce costs in terms of time and effort due to reduced time spent on discipline cases involving those caught committing examination malpractices. In addition, it will increase integrity within the institution as well as enhancing students’ respect for ethics and values. It is expected that the findings of this study will help education planners both at National and Regional levels, to develop policies and set strategies that will go a long way in curbing cheating in our higher institutions of learning. It will also help universities to find ways in which they can mitigate against this evil practice. This study will also generate useful literature that can be used for reference in other studies.

8. Theoretical Framework

This study was underpinned by the Theory of Reasoned Action. The theory of reasoned action (TRA) is one of the three classic models of persuasion. The theory is also used in communication discourse as a theory of understanding. The theory of reasoned action was developed by Martin Fishbein and Icek Ajzen in 1967 and was derived from previous research that began as the theory of attitude. The theory aims to explain the relationship between attitudes and behaviors within human action. TRA is used to predict how individuals will behave based on their pre-existing attitudes and behavioral intentions. An individual's decision to engage in a particular behavior is based on the outcomes the individual expects will come as a result of performing the behavior. The theory of reasoned action serves to understand an individual's voluntary behavior. The ideas found within the theory of reasoned action have to do with an individual's basic motivation to perform an action. TRA says that a person's intention to perform a behavior is the main predictor of whether or not they actually perform that behavior. According to the theory, intention to perform a certain behavior precedes the actual behavior. This intention is known as behavioral intention and comes as a result of a belief that performing the behavior will lead to a specific outcome. Behavioral intention is important to the theory because these intentions "are determined by attitudes to behaviors and subjective norms". The theory of reasoned action suggests that stronger intentions lead to increased effort to perform the behavior, which also increases the likelihood for the behavior to be performed.

9. Methodology

The study was conducted between the months of June and July in 2017. This study was conducted among 214 undergraduate students from 4 schools of the university i.e School of Education, Business and Economics, Agriculture and Biotechnology and School of Science and Technology from two campuses of the University in Kenya. The study employed stratified random sampling technique to obtain 214 student respondents from the Main and the Town campuses of One University in Kenya. The strata were the various schools/faculties at the University. The questionnaire items were face-validated to ascertain their suitability for use in data collection by an expert in the field of study. The language, contents and the structure of the items were critically examined and possible corrections and suggestions were made. The reliability of the instrument was ascertained using a test –retest method. A reliability co-efficient of 0.845 and 0.824 were obtained respectively for the instruments using Pearson Product Moment Correlation co-efficient in a pilot study was conducted with 30 students in a different university in the Kisii County. The research instrument was administered personally by hand to the Teachers in the public primary schools selected. This was after obtaining permission from NACOSTI and the relevant heads of the institutions. Quantitative data was analyzed using descriptive statistics by the aid of SPSS. Qualitative data was organized into themes of the study.

The study sampled 111(51.9%) male students and 103(48.1%) female students. The majority 126(58.9%) students were drawn from main campus, while 88(41.1%) were from town campus. Among the 214 students sampled for the study, first year students were 34(15.9%), second year students were 98 (45.8%) third year students were 12 (5.6%) while fourth year students were 70 (32.7%). A majority of the students 66.8% were aged between 21-24 years old.


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Academic Dishonesty Among Undergraduate Students At One University In Kenya. Causes And Mitigations
University of Kabianga  (School Of Education)
Educational Management
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academic, dishonesty, among, undergraduate, students, university, kenya, causes, mitigations
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Joshua Manduku (Author)Abigail Kerubo Gichaba (Author)Samwel Ruto (Author)Pamela Oloo (Author), 2021, Academic Dishonesty Among Undergraduate Students At One University In Kenya. Causes And Mitigations, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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