Plagiarism and exam cheating among thousands of academic misconduct cases on UK nursing courses

A Nursing Standard investigation reveals thousands of UK nursing students have been involved in cases of academic misconduct such as plagiarism, forging signatures and cheating in exams.
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Thousands of UK nursing students have been involved in cases of academic misconduct such as plagiarism, forging signatures and cheating in exams, a Nursing Standard investigation has revealed.

According to data returned to Nursing Standard from 52 universities for the academic years 2012-16, there were 2,752 cases of academic misconduct among nursing students. The majority of cases (79%) involved plagiarism.

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Nursing Standard report revealed 79% of cases involved plagiarism by nursing students. Picture: Getty

But, forging mentors’ signatures, breaching patient confidentiality, using essay writing services, cheating in exams and falsifying data were disciplinary matters also reported by universities.

At the University of Brighton, between 2014-16, there were four instances of nursing students forging signatures on practice documents – an act classed as major misconduct by the university.

Repercussions of cheating

Punishments included failing the module and redoing practice placements, capped marks of 40% and in one case writing a 1,000-word essay on the importance of honesty and integrity of nurses.

However, a University of Brighton spokesperson said cases involving the falsification of signatures were extremely rare and these were dealt with ‘robustly’.

He said: ‘In all of these cases there were significant mitigating circumstances such as mentors forgetting to sign all of the necessary pages.

‘Students are advised throughout their course of the importance of their honesty and integrity as a future health professional and are all required to sign each professional practice document to confirm that they are a person of good health and character.’

Unacceptable offence

RCN head of education Anne Corrin said students often do not see the link between an academic offence and a professional one.

‘If someone is forging signatures; that is absolutely unacceptable, and in whatever context we would not want nurses to be doing it,’ she said. 

Ms Corrin also suggested plagiarism was sometimes a particular issue among overseas students who were not familiar with UK academic conventions.

However, she said there were often mitigating circumstances or personal reasons for misconduct and mentioned one student who was discontinued from a nursing programme for plagiarism.

‘This was a student who was under immense financial pressure and working a lot of hours on top of training and was just desperate to pass.

‘It was very foolish and I am not condoning it, but often there is a story there. People are often doing these things because they feel desperate.’

Plagiarism detection

The University of Chester has seen 235 disciplinary cases since 2014 when plagiarism detection software was installed for all text-based assessments. 

This was a 467% increase on the year before the software was installed.

A spokesperson said: ‘During the first year of operation, the number of allegations of academic malpractice increased significantly.

‘This was a trend that was fully expected and matches that previously seen in other institutions where the use of plagiarism detection software has been instigated.’

A Nursing and Midwifery Council spokesperson said prior to registration, it was a university's responsibility to ensure systems were in place to identify and tackle concerns about nursing students’ conduct.