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What happens if the School doubts the authenticity of your work

Commissioning, also known as contract cheating, is a very serious form of academic misconduct. This offence would occur if you obtained work that had already been written, in part or in full, by another person and submitted it as if you had written it.

The most common cases we see are when a student has bought an essay or paid someone to write it for them - there are a number of websites dedicated to this business and many are producing work of a low quality. However, you can also commission work if you haven't paid for it. For example, if you get a family member or friend to write the assignment for you it would be also be classed as a commissioning offence.

The standard penalty for commissioning is withdrawal from the University and the risk of being caught is high - if you're having problems in your personal life or work, please seek support from us or your School instead. You could submit Exceptional Circumstances for an extension or further attempt, or you might want to consider taking a Leave of Absence. 

There are a number of reasons why a tutor could become suspicious about a student's work. Some of the most common reasons we've seen include:

  • The assignment doesn't really answer the question or is off-topic. This could suggest that you or someone else tried to make an existing essay fit with the topic you were given.
  • You've included information that wasn't covered in classes or available in the main sources. Sometimes this information may be too advanced and the tutor would question why you went into such depth.
  • Using unusual sources that weren't recommended or covered in class. The sources may also be difficult to find.
  • References that don't match the sources when they're looked up. For example, you stated you found a fact in certain page of a book but when the tutor checked the book they found that page had nothing to do with what you'd written.
  • The language and structure is very different from your previous work.
  • The quality is much better than your previous work.
  • They saw something strange in the metadata when looking in your file properties, such as another person being named as author.

Gather any notes and drafts you can find, to show you worked on the assignment. You can send them to the Academic Conduct Officer (ACO) before the meeting or bring it with you if you're meeting in person. You may also still have the websites you visited in your browser history, which could show you visited the sources at the time.

Go through your essay and remind yourself of the topic. Be prepared to answer specific questions about what you wrote - think of it as an oral exam where you explain your work. Think about the sources you used, how you found them, and why you decided to use them. Which sources did you find particularly useful?

If your work is very different than your other assessments, did you approach it differently this time? Did you understand this topic more, put more effort into it, or have you worked hard to improve your skills?

If there are any concerns about file properties, such as the author name, think about how this happened. If you worked on someone else's computer, do you have any evidence? Did you create a new document at the last minute and copy the essay into it?

The meeting will usually be with the Academic Conduct Officer (ACO), the marker and a note taker. The ACO and marker will tell you why they are questioning the authenticity of your work and will ask you questions to determine your knowledge.

You will have the opportunity to explain how you worked on the essay and how you think any irregularities might have occurred.

If you did obtain your work from someone else or get help with it, explain what happened and whether there was anything happening in your personal life that was affecting your ability to study.

If the ACO still believes you may have committed a commissioning offence you will be referred to the Academic Misconduct Committee. This is because of the serious nature of the offence. The standard penalty for commissioning is withdrawal, unless you have very strong Exceptional Circumstances.

If the ACO believes the work is your own, the case will go no further and there will be no offence.

The ACO may find that, while you didn't commission the work, you may have committed a lesser misconduct offence. For example, you may have plagiarised some of the essay or you may have given your work to someone for proofreading and the proofreader went beyond what is allowed. If this is the case, a penalty could be applied, depending on the offence and whether you have any previous misconduct offences. You can see a full table of penalties in the Code of Practice.

The Academic Misconduct Committee is made up of three academic members of staff: one Chair, one member of your Faculty (but not the School), and one member from a different Faculty. Someone from your School, usually the ACO, is also present to explain why the School has concerns.

Make sure you submit a statement and evidence in advance, to show you did the work or to present Exceptional Circumstances.

You will be asked many of the same questions you were asked in the previous meeting. However, the committee members will not be experts on the topic so they will not be going into as much depth about the content. They will focus more on any irregularities and how you wrote the essay.

If you did commission the work, explain why you did this. If you have any ECs that led to you making this decision, make sure the committee understands what you were going through and how you were feeling.

You will either be told the outcome at the end of the meeting or you will be contacted by email.

In some circumstances, you may be able to appeal the decision. You will only be able to do this if you can satisfy one, or both, of the following grounds:

  • procedural irregularity in the conduct of the original investigations of the Academic Conduct Officer or Academic Misconduct Committee;
  • exceptional circumstances, providing that these circumstances can be substantiated.

More information on appealing can be found on the University website. Remember that there is a deadline of 10 days to appeal.

If you would like to appeal or need some more information contact us at ASK and we will guide you through the process.

If you are found to have committed no misconduct, there will be no impact on your course.

If you are found to have committed a commissioning offence you will be put through your Faculty's Fitness to Practise process. While you may already have been withdrawn from the University under the misconduct process, your Faculty would also need to consider whether you are unfit to work in the profession and the decision will be reported to your governing body.

Other types of misconduct can also have professional implications, depending on their severity and whether there is cause to doubt your honesty and integrity. Misconduct offences are recorded and must be declared.

ASK can help you to prepare your case and attend the meeting with you, if necessary. If there have been reasons why you have committed misconduct, we can explore these and help you to put your case forward to your school Academic Conduct Officer or an Academic Misconduct Committee.