(based on outcomes of SAIUP – Strengthening Academic Integrity in Ukraine Project)

Strengthening Academic Integrity in Ukraine Project (SAIUP) began its work in February 2016 by defining academic integrity. The response in the infosphere to the ideas of honesty, autonomy, independence, objectivity, and professionalism—so seemingly obvious to the academic community—was enthusiastic. Efforts began to discuss, explore, and, most importantly, explain them to students. Though the foreign and complex concept of academic integrity was new to the public, in just two years it became an integral theme of academic discussions, resonating with students and teachers alike. Now we speak of academic integrity as a clearly defined concept with characteristics, actors, stakeholders, and a concrete regulatory framework. We still have far to go before it will take a firm hold; today, however, we not only have first wins but significant achievements within the Ukrainian education system, especially in higher education. As we approach the midpoint of SAIUP’s implementation, it is time to share our gains and practices while we seek help in addressing continuing challenges, so that through joint efforts we can ensure that academic integrity becomes firmly embedded in Ukraine’s system of education and science.

Academic Integrity – An Established Concept, Not a Myth

Academic integrity is a widely accepted concept in the developed countries of the modern world. Its generalized nature, on the one hand, allows it to extend into very diverse domains of academic life, with each actor playing a unique role and vested with respective rights, responsibilities, and commitments. On the other hand, its very scope is viewed as a threat in cultures where the academic rules of behavior are still unshaped or were lost or destroyed. Ukraine falls into the second category, particularly in higher education, where due to distorted goals and twisted values the good name of a student or scholar, the prestige of academia, and institutional reputation have yielded precedence to rank, and the influence that rank helps to attain.

In this regard it is hard to overestimate the importance of Article 42 ”Academic Integrity,” which was written into the new framework Law on Education. The Law provides the following definition of academic integrity: “a set of ethical principles and legally defined rules that should guide actors in the education process during learning, teaching, and engaging in research (creative) activity in order to ensure the credibility of learning outcomes and/or research (creative) accomplishments.”  In this way, academic integrity has transformed from an unwritten cultural and philosophical concept into a clearly defined legal norm with rules, requirements, and sanctions. While participating in the formulation of Article 42, the project team was acutely aware of the importance of a basic Law on Education for setting the direction for the entire national system of education, in which academic integrity should be a legal requirement bringing the value of trust in learning outcomes and research. Article 43 then lists the main breaches of academic integrity that students and other actors are known to commit in the education process, including academic plagiarism, self-plagiarism, fabrication, falsification, cheating, bribery, and biased assessment.

To emphasize the need for mechanisms to regulate, guide, and control academic integrity in Ukrainian universities, the Ministry of Education and Science circulated “Ensuring Academic Integrity in Institutions of Higher Learning” among top leadership teams. It contains a list of recommended measures for internal quality assurance and emphasizes the need for adequate regulatory frameworks. Universities are advised to create honor codes, rules, and guidelines that establish and promote the new rules of the game, which must be binding for all academic actors, not just for the sake of ethical awareness, but because it is a legal norm.

Most of SAIUP’s partner institutions have designed and adopted honor codes. The next step will be to set up ethics committees and spell out their roles, mandates, and decision-making and appeal processes. These roles must be detailed and feasible, since rules on paper without substance will stifle the initiative and grossly undermine the idea behind Article 42. SAIUP engaged experts who reviewed the documents that universities developed and offered advice. Universities in turn took pains to celebrate the signing of honor codes, so that their freshmen would absorb the moment and the university spirit. This was the time when students really understood that by putting their signature they attested to their readiness not only to embrace academic integrity, but to work towards making it a reality across the institution, not an abstraction. Students signed “no plagiarism” statements regarding their written work and committed to be honest in their learning.

In a separate effort to help transform academic integrity from myth to sustainable practice, SAIUP helped implement ”Academic Writing and Integrity” for freshmen at partner universities, either as a comprehensive course or an individual module. Consistent delivery of the course has brought initial results: freshmen understand the concept of academic integrity and are familiar with key terms. They received information about possible sanctions for breaches of integrity and learned how to produce written work that meets criteria set by the faculty. From day one of their university life, students are now equipped with tools that help them adhere to the new rules of the game. The lead innovators in this area are Lutsk National Technical University and Ismail State Humanitarian University, which have been teaching academic integrity to their freshmen since September 2017. They followed the initiative of Ternopil State Medical University, which offers its course to graduate students. Mandatory integration of this course or module into university curricula at the national level, when adapted to institutional needs, will be an opportunity to familiarize all incoming students with the principles of academic integrity. It will rally them around the university they have chosen, emphasize the value and integrity of higher education, and create a bridge between their secondary school experience and their new stage of university learning.

Have Faith, Build Awareness and Unite  

The philosophy behind SAIUP is to unite like-minded people around awareness, appreciation, and readiness to embed the culture of academic integrity into Ukrainian education. This year it has become a tradition among partner universities for students and faculty to conduct activities under the umbrella, “Integrity Starts With You.” 12 universities competed for mini-grants to present their visions of how to implement academic integrity and make it understandable to ordinary students. Debates, challenges, contests, and lectures delivered by recognized and accomplished alumni, opinion leaders, and reformers served as inspiration and addressed both salient and everyday topics as a way to convince freshmen that honest and mindful learning is really central to success in life.

There is no question that student engagement plays a critical role in activities related to academic integrity. However, student movements are less likely to achieve results if not backed by faculty and mentors. Teachers must actively show in their day-to-day efforts how academic integrity is being shaped in classrooms. This was the goal of the SAIUP team in organizing in the spring of 2017 the national conference, “Academic Integrity: Practices of Ukrainian Universities,” jointly with National Kyiv Polytechnic U. and the Ukrainian Library Association. Its goals were to inform educators about the key principles for instituting academic integrity mechanisms in universities, present successful practices in developing regulatory procedures, and offer alternative ways to build a new academic culture in line with global standards. A separate session was dedicated to the role of university librarians as key players in embedding sustainable integrity in universities. Participants also had the chance to share and discuss their concerns, hear critical feedback, and present their own achievements related to academic integrity, such as honor codes, advanced teaching and student engagement methodologies, and enhancing relations between students, teachers, and administrations. This successful event will become a good tradition for professionals who are knowledgeable about crucial issues of higher education reform to both share and benefit from new learning opportunities.

Reformers and project partners, all united around the goal of quality higher education in Ukraine, took part in workshops and discussions throughout the year in an effort to refine academic integrity mechanisms that have already been instituted. We are convinced that in the coming year participating universities will become successful models for their peer institutions.

Learning to teach

An important part of the project has been an array of training and peer-to-peer activities involving Ukrainian and foreign experts, including study tours to universities willing to share good practices and serve as good examples for Ukraine.

The first significant event was the visit to Ukraine by Professors Kathryn Nantz and David Schmidt from Fairfield University (Connecticut, USA) to train student and faculty team coordinators at partner universities. This year the program introduced a novelty: mixed working groups of students and faculty. Under the mentorship and guidance of the Fairfield professors, students and faculty designed road maps to realize their own vision for incremental but comprehensive implementation of academic integrity in their universities.

Group discussion of Article 42 “Academic Integrity” of the basic Law on Education showed that students and faculty had a common vision of problems and ways to address them, although at times bias and lack of dialogue prevent these two communities from finding a constructive way forward. Experts from Fairfield University also delivered lectures entitled, “Academic Integrity—Beyond First Impressions,” in Kharkiv (Karazin National University and Kharkiv National University of Urban Economy) and Sumy (Sumy State University). Their contribution helped more than 700 students and teachers to clearly understand that academic integrity starts within the walls of an educational institution, but its impacts and outcomes are more far-reaching.

The SAIUP team received support from U.S. Embassy Kyiv’s Regional English Language Office to emphasize the importance of academic writing. Professor Victoria Taylor, an expert on academic writing, conducted four two-day workshops in Kyiv for university faculty and PhD students on how to formulate their thoughts, write scientific texts in English, and decide on the primary focus when working with sources. 170 teachers and doctoral students attended her workshops in Kyiv (Kyiv National Linguistic University,) Odesa (Mechnykov National University,) Lviv (Ukrainian Catholic University,) and Kharkiv (Kharkiv National University of Urban Economy,) a sign of high interest among the Ukrainian education community. This expert will visit again in February, 2018 at SAIUP’s invitation.

Project participants learned about international successes in higher education reform not just in Ukraine but also during study trips abroad. Faculty team coordinators from Ternopil Medical University, Chernivtsi National University, Ismail State Humanitarian University, and Lutsk National Technical University took part in Open World exchange programs in the United States. Impressed by U.S. expertise in academic integrity as well as inclusive education, education management, and collaborative pedagogy, they returned eager to share their experiences with Ukrainian peers at the conference “Academic Integrity: Practices of Ukrainian Universities.

A study trip to the Czech Republic organized on behalf of Mechnykov National University, Donetsk National University, and Sumy State University, also proved rich and fulfilling. The team visited Masaryk University (Brno) to learn about student governments. It is critical to ensure that student governments unite students around progressive ideas, not just housekeeping and routine matters. Academic integrity was the subject of discussions with foreign colleagues, and the Ukrainian delegates presented their accomplishments.

Throughout 2017, the SAIUP team took part in numerous events, initiated discussions, research projects, and debates, and provided advice to students, faculty, and university administrations on implementing honor codes and academic writing courses. The project has two more years of intense work ahead that promise to be just as exciting and instrumental for ensuring academic integrity takes hold. With the support of the Ministry of Education and Science, the US Embassy, and other partners involved in building an integrity-based, high-quality higher education system in Ukraine, these efforts will contribute to positive, long-term outcomes and visible changes not only within the academic community, but throughout society as a whole.

Ukrainian version of this article is available here

This article was prepared by the SAIUP team.

Proofread by Conrad Turner