Determining the severity of breach

There is no hard and fast guide as to when a particular breach of academic integrity might be considered minor, which is known as 'Poor Academic Practice', or major, which constitutes 'Academic Misconduct' .

There are, however, a number of factors which can indicate whether a case is likely to be minor (poor academic practice) or major (academic misconduct). These are reproduced below. We also encourage you to discuss a case with your Head of School to seek guidance. We are also available in ASQO to provide you with information, if you send us through your questions to or give us a call using our contact details.

Ultimately, as the Course Convener, you do not have to find whether a case is 'academic misconduct'. Your options are:

  • To find that no breach has occurred; or
  • To find that poor academic practice has occurred; or
  • To find that it appears to be more serious than poor academic practice, and so could potentially be academic misconduct. This then gets referred onto your Associate Dean, for them to investigate.

The goal of find 'poor academic practice' is to try and educate the student to succeed in their studies and not repeat a mistake. If academic misconduct is found, the penalties are punitive rather than educative.

So, if you can see that a breach has occurred, what are the factors that you should consider in making a determination?

Mitigating circumstances

If there are mitigating circumstances that are provided in an explanation from the student, these can be taken into account, in conjunction with other factors. Some examples of mitigating circumstances might include:

  • The student is at an early stage of an undergraduate program of study, and was not aware, through no fault of their own, that their actions constituted a breach of academic integrity;
  • The student is at an early stage of their studies and has previously studied in a foreign culture that may have had different approaches to academic integrity;
  • The student had a personal, emotional, or health issue that can go some way to explaining the actions, and/or is likely to make the breach a one-off.

Significance of the breach

If the breach is plagiarism, how much was plagiarised? One or two short references that weren't appropriated correctly might be poor academic practice, however large swathes of text that form the core part of the argument in an essay or the response to a set of questions might be seen to be more serious.

Intentions & past record

It can be hard to establish if the breach was intentional, however it is one worth giving at least some small consideration to. Could it reasonably be argued that the breach was unintended, careless, inadvertent or uninformed? If so, it might be poor academic practice. However, if it appears reasonable that the breach might have been intentional, it is quite possible that it might be more significant than poor academic practice.

In addition to intent, it is also worth considering how contrite or remorseful a student appears to be regarding their actions. Do they appear surprised and apologetic, and willing to engage in redemptive behaviour, or simply distressed that they were caught and argumentative?

Additionally, if the student has breached academic integrity previously, then it is highly likely that it is more likely to be academic misconduct rather than poor academic practice. The only time it might be minor, is if the breaches are for completely different offences.

Particularly for first year students, it is also important to know if there was any instruction provided in the course on appropriate academic methods? Could it be possible that a student genuinely was not aware of appropriate academic methods?

Grounds for potential academic misconduct

It may be appropriate to escalate a case as potential academic misconduct, rather than find poor academic practice, where one or more of the following appear to apply:

  • there is evidence that the student's conduct was knowing, intentional, reckless, wilful, or premeditated;
  • the student's conduct was a repeat breach of the Code;
  • there are no compelling or adequate mitigating circumstances to explain the conduct;
  • the student's explanation is inconsistent with other compelling evidence (e.g. the student denies copying even though the assessment item contains material that is clearly copied from another identified source), or;
  • the student's conduct is otherwise inexcusable.