Academic Dishonesty: Fear and Justifications. Why Russian undergraduates cheat and how they rationalise it for themselves and others

Blog-report, Higher School of Economics, Moscow (2020)

“End-of-term exams have just finished in many universities operating on the modular system. Some students passed because they worked hard while others passed by cheating. Why do some students cheat by looking over someone’s shoulder, furtively searching for test answers on the internet, using cheat sheets during exams or paying others to complete their coursework? How do they rationalise their behaviour to continue to think of themselves as decent people? A study conducted by the HSE Centre for Sociology of Higher Education offers some answers. Spoiler alert: motives for academic dishonesty are extremely varied, ranging from a fear of failure to a deeply ingrained habit to perceiving the course as irrelevant or poorly delivered. A recent study by the Centre for Sociology of Higher Education of the HSE Institute of Education suggests that cheating students use various mental strategies to rationalise and justify their dishonesty, indicating their awareness that cheating is wrong and their attempts to resolve an internal conflict. […] Dremova, Maloshonok and Terentiev interviewed a number of undergraduates in Russia and the U.K. at both highly selective (two in each country) and medium-level universities (one in each, in different regions), most of them large and multidisciplinary ones. The students interviewed were predominantly economics and business undergraduates whom other studies found to be more prone to academic fraud. […] Cheating such as copying from other students’ papers was found in both countries. But the study did not involve a cross-country comparison, rather, its main purpose was to provide a generalised classification of reasons why undergraduates may either judge or justify cheating and to suggest appropriate measures against academic fraud for various national contexts. The researchers identified six main types of logic – or ‘modes’ – of dishonest conduct, based on Laurent Thévenot and Luc Boltanski’s sociology of critical capacity.”