Do you believe in the University model? If you’re not sure how to answer, indulge me. I’m going to blow the trumpet of the university for a few paragraphs.

Perhaps now more than ever we’re seeing the innate strength that model holds. We start to see the infrastructure that holds and supports teams of people whose specialty is to maintain integrity in a crisis.

During the VC’s Welcome, Attila waxes lyrical on the importance of our university to society. So it really made me think about what the relationship between academic integrity and the University means.

The University

This fantastic thing is one of the oldest surviving institutions in human history.

Looking only at its history in Europe, Università di Bologna is almost 1000 years old. Founded in 1088 slightly before Oxford, Bologna remains operational today but its predecessors are many and varied.

University of Bologna courtyard
Photo of University of Bologna Faculty of Medicine by Anastasia Zhenina from Pexels

The longest running in the world, the University of al-Qarawiyyin in Morocco was founded in 859, and is still operating today.

University of al-Qarawiyyin courtyard
Photo of University of al-Qarawiyyin by Medist / CC BY-SA on wikimedia commons

In India, the college in Pushpagiri is thought to have been founded in the 3rd Century AD. Slightly later, Nalanda University was established in the 5th century, operated for 6 hundred years until 1200, at its height it had 10,000 students and 2000 lecturers and it was recently re-established in 2014.

University of Nalanda carving
University of Nalanda ruins by Photo Dharma from Penang, Malaysia / CC BY (

This whole time, universities have been educating and training young people, producing discerning, critical, creative citizens AND guiding society through major upheaval!

Critical posthumanist philosopher, Rosi Braidotti, is profoundly in love with the University and its ability to adapt to change:

We survived the introduction of the printed press. We survived the emancipation of women. We survived decolonization. We’ve almost survived the internet. It’s a brilliant institution.

To clarify, by ‘survived’, she means we have learnt to fold new ideas into our institution, fully adapting to and in some cases creating new paradigms.

Braidotti goes on to say that the University is “an institution of such pedigree, energy and nobility of heart”, that it has continued introducing people to critical thought for tens of hundreds of years.

Now by way of comparison, we’ll be taking shots at another model for an institution.

The Corporation

If we agree to some extent that this is in anyway true of the University, then the next question should be why would such an institution be asked to take as its new model, the corporation? A failed institution, proven to be fraudulent, bankrupt and dishonest time and time again, constantly needing to be bailed out from its failings and only very recent by comparison?

William Dalyrymple, author of The Anarchy, writes of the East India Company:

the first great multinational corporation, and the first to run amok – the supreme act of corporate violence in world history, was the ultimate model for many of today’s joint-stock corporations.

William Dalyrymple

So what exactly does this fact have to do with academic integrity?

The University is Academic Integrity

Well, when talking about academic integrity, UTS is trying to get away from the idea that this is only about detecting plagiarism and cheating, even though this is still central to our duty. We are moving towards the idea that academic integrity is about maintaining the University as the model institution for the 21st century.

To belong to a University is to believe in academic integrity. The particulars of what constitutes this integrity have become more inclusive and fluid. It is not something we can place solely in the hands of students or solely in the hands of academic staff. This is an idea that each of us contribute to and that each of us must grapple with at some stage.

embracing integrity as a value that we all play an active role in sustaining.

Maryanne Dever

In addition to teaching students how to avoid plagiarism we can be teaching them to respect the University as an institution of integrity. In addition to training staff on how to recognise acts of contract cheating, we can instil in students and staff the power of the integrity which the University upholds.

Simply placing information on the learning management system about academic integrity, without integrating it into assessment discussions, is unlikely to be effective.

Amanda White

One approach to this is to take consideration of Ryan and Deci’s Self-determination theory.

  • Engendering the relatedness that comes from belonging to a community and an institution which values integrity above all else.
  • Giving members of our university the sense of autonomy to collaboratively define and challenge definitions of academic integrity.
  • Building our sense of competence to talk about academic integrity and recognise that maintaining and protecting it is the duty of our institution.

Now that we are faced with the biggest challenge that I hope many of us will ever face in our careers, let us remember to demonstrate what integrity means. To each other, to our society, and to other institutional models that gain currency by disparaging education.

Things will not always go right as we scramble to maintain teaching in this new mode. We may reconsider what we really need to teach and what really matters for Academic Integrity. Be kind to yourselves and your students during this time. The LX.lab will be here to offer critical insight and support into how we uphold the University as the model of an institution and a model for Integrity.

Feature image by Sharon McCutcheon.

Join the discussion