The importance of academic ethics

Tags: Op-ed
The importance of academic ethics
LIFELONG LEARNINGS: Academic integrity comes from honesty in education, research and learning. It is one of the best moral practices that can make a student truthful and reliable throughout his or her lifetime
When actor Alan Alda, star of the popular American TV series MASH, was 11, he had asked his science teacher what fire was. She took a long time to answer, and had briefly said, “It is oxidation.” Alda found the answer deeply unsatisfactory.

In 2011 — 64 years later —Alda developed the Alan Alda Centre for Communicating Science, which has been working to enhance understanding of science by helping train the next generation of scientists and health professionals to communicate more effectively with the public, public officials, the media, and others outside their own discipline. The centre offers a range of instructional programmes for science graduate students and scientists, including workshops, conferences, lectures, and coaching opportunities, as well as credit-bearing courses offered through the School of Journalism. Hundreds of scientists tackled this year’s question, “What is time?” and thousands of 11-year-olds from around the world reviewed and critiqued their entries. There are many interesting questions regarding this question and if you desire to tap more information about the same, go to

This real story clearly indicates the loss of academic honesty in our teacher community. So if a teacher does not know the answer to a question asked by a pupil, the best way one should adopt is to be frank and excite the child by saying, “Let both of us try to find the answer!” Such actions would not only expand the child’s interest in learning, but would also create a positive impact on the values that the teacher is imbibing on the young generation, in the form of honesty and ethics of good behaviour. If one tries to find out what is honesty and what impact it has on student’s life, the best answer is to define honesty. Many British, European and American universities have done such an exercise and a simple definition comes as, “Academic honesty means the performance of all academic work without cheating, lying, and dishonesty of any kind, getting any unauthorised assistance and favours from anyone”. Academic integrity comes from honesty in education, research and learning. It is one of the best moral practices that can make a student truthful and reliable in his or her lifetime. It teaches them to become responsible and establish respect for others and their values. The ethics of academic honesty is another important ideological mechanism. It implicitly claims that because cheating is wrong, students should be openly told implications of cheating on their performance, since the performance of students is very important for the society, to make it more matured and peaceful.

Institutions such as MIT in the US address their fresh students and tell them, “You are a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology because of your demonstrated intellectual ability and because of your potential to make a significant contribution to human thought and knowledge... As the world becomes more complex, scientists and engineers, as well as humanists, social scientists, managers, architects and planners, need to be able to communicate what they know both to each other and to the public... One of MIT’s goals is to graduate articulate men and women who will be able to take their expertise into the world and communicate it effectively. During your academic life at MIT, you will be required to complete assignments based on oral communication and writing, some of which will require research in libraries and laboratories, and accessing electronic resources. MIT anticipates that you will pursue your studies with purpose and integrity. The cornerstone of scholarship in all academic disciplines is honesty. MIT expects that you will approach everything you do here honestly — whether solving a math problem, writing a research or critical paper, or writing an exam.”

Today, if we look at the glossy information brochures that our educational institutions bring out during admission process, one finds that they only elaborate the institute’s huge physical infrastructure and mention just a few aspects of the academic powerhouse. They also talk of the job opportunity environment, but sadly never focus on the “creation of graduates who would pursue their studies with purpose and integrity.”

Recently, I was reminded of ethical behaviour as I delivered the Indian Science Congress Association’s ‘Jawaharlal Nehru Birth Centenary Award Lecture’ to school and college children in Kolkata on February 28 — celebrated as National Science Day each year. It touched issues that have become critical in the present election year such as social responsibility, corruption and non-commitment to the job responsibility. Aspects like the need for blending of corporate social responsibility (CSR), and education and research per se in today’s competitive world.

Many students raised questions about honesty, integrity and ethics in our educational as well as political system, that are presently under crises. A student — in a soft but firm tone — even said, “We would soon get colourful brochures from each party which would never touch honesty, integrity or ethics in governance and operational politics that we all are looking for”. Thus, Indian democracy is truly passing through many unanswerable questions from youths at present.

(The writer is former chairman of UGC, former vice-chancellor of University of Pune and founder director of NAAC)


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