When considering the striking statistics on academic tribunals released by YUSU, the first thing to get clear is they do not by any means automatically indicate higher rates of attempted cheating among overseas students. Students who seek YUSU’s help may go for a wide range of reasons, including academic appeals. Those who do face misconduct hearings, in other words a charge of impropriety, should not automatically be assumed to have been accused of cheating. The highly publicised cases of Elnar Askerov and Qui Shi Zhang, clear examples of deliberate fraud, are the exceptions. Most of those facing an academic tribunal will be there after breaking the rules of scholarship by mistake, not by intention.
Yet, while there is not necessarily a cheating epidemic there is a clear and striking problem in the way overseas students are being handled at this, and other, universities. International students make up a vastly disproportionate percentage of those facing an academic tribunal. We would do well to remember how stressful a degree can be, even in our own language, let alone in a foreign one. The language barrier effects every element of an academic career – from establishing a relationship with tutors, to learning the course, and to understanding complicated plagiarism regulations.
The situation demands a much more proactive and concerted approach from all those concerned with the welfare of international students. The University must provide a more targeted support network and move beyond a barrage of lectures and forms that may not always be assimilated in the whirlwind of a move to a foreign country. Supervisors must also take the initiative and make sure that they go beyond termly meetings and fulfill their primary responsibility to those in their care – to keep their academic careers on track. Finally, there is an important role for the Overseas Students Association as well in helping students to build up a body of experience that can be passed on to new arrivals in terms that can understood and taken on board.