Academic misconduct

The University defines academic misconduct as any action or attempted action that may result in a student or group of students obtaining an unfair academic advantage in formal University assessment, or any activity likely to undermine the integral essential to scholarship and research.

Academic misconduct includes ethical misconduct and includes any attempt to gain an unfair advantage in an academic assessment (all assessments are included, for example, examinations, class tests, essays, coursework, dissertations, research projects, reports, etc.).

All reported allegations of academic misconduct are taken seriously and may lead to disciplinary action. Academic misconduct is regarded as a breach of University Regulations and where proven will result in penalties being imposed.

The following information outlines the definitions and terminologies used for academic misconduct extracted from the Student Academic Misconduct Policy. Read more about the University's discipline procedures.

Types (definitions) of misconduct


Plagiarism constitutes one form of academic misconduct and is defined as the presentation, by a student, of work for assessment that draws from another source without acknowledgement of that source. The source could be, for example, an online article, a YouTube video, or ChatGPT.

Plagiarism may take different forms, such as:

  • Copying and pasting parts or all of resources, digital or otherwise, without clear acknowledgement;
  • Verbatim (word-for-word) copies without the use of quotation marks, whether with citations or not. This includes word-for-word translation from non-English resources to English;
  • Paraphrasing without citation. Note excessive paraphrasing is not a good practice and should be avoided;
  • Poor paraphrasing that results in almost identical copy of the original source;
  • Inaccurate citation.

Other types of academic misconduct include:


When a student resubmits work that they originally completed and submitted for another purpose, without acknowledgment of this. This is regarded as academic misconduct (unless resubmission was permitted).


Unauthorised collaboration between students, where the answers presented by a single student are actually the work of more than one student. Note that this does not apply where group work has been specifically requested by the course leader(s).

Contract cheating

Heriot-Watt University shares the same definition as what Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) defines as:

“Contract cheating happens when a third party completes work for a student who then submits it to an education provider as their own, where such input is not permitted. Over the last decade, an industry has developed where companies, based in the UK or overseas, are paid to undertake this work. These companies have become known as ‘essay mills’, although many supply a range of services in addition to essay writing. Typically, the essay mill will outsource the commissioned work to individual writers engaged on an ad hoc basis. The term ‘contract cheating’ does not apply exclusively to essay mills. It can, for example, also refer to situations such as friends or family members completing assignments for students in whole or in part and does not always involve a financial relationship”.

For more details, refer to Contract cheating risk and avoidance: A student guide.

Other examples of academic misconduct include but are not limited to the following:

  • Purchasing or soliciting material/work undertaken by others and presenting as own work: the use of services to produce student work for assessment (such services may try to persuade students that this is entirely normal and acceptable practice, when in fact it is misconduct).
  • Selling material: Selling or offering to sell, by whatever means, material or using other inducements, to assist a student in producing work for assessment.
  • Falsifying data: presenting data based on work which a student claims to have carried out but which they have invented or obtained by unfair means.
  • Falsify references: Purposely presenting false and inaccurate references and citations.
  • Examination misconduct: unauthorised materials being in the vicinity of a student during an examination or the use of such materials, the use of electronic devices not permitted during an examination, or any other conduct not permitted under the University's Regulations, Policies, and Procedures on examinations.
  • Dishonest practice: this covers any form of practice which attempts to deceive others, or obtain any form of academic advantage, but is not specifically identified by the above.
  • Inappropriate use of technology: Use of technology to generate work and presenting the output as if it were your own work without acknowledgement. For example: Where an assessment is required to be written in English, writing it in a language other than English and then using translation software or assistance from a third party to convert into English.

Academic misconduct terminology

The following lists a summary of terminologies that Heriot-Watt is considering in relation to any academic misconduct cases.


Any part of the assessment that has been referred to discipline committees. Academic misconduct proven in a component (part or whole of an assessed piece of work), regardless of the percentage, will result in the overall course for that semester being reported as Invalid Grade, and the reassessment of that component will be added to the other elements of the course assessment(s) at the reassessment diet only.

Invalid Grade (IG)

Course result of ‘IG’ will be added to a student’s record by the relevant Registry and Academic Services team only when it has been determined by the relevant Discipline Committee that an entire course is void. The result of ‘IG’ remains permanently on a student’s transcript.

Investigation Pending (IP)

Course result of ‘IP’ will be added to a student’s record by the relevant Registry and Academic Services team to any course being investigated for suspected academic misconduct. The result of ‘IP’ will be updated by the relevant Registry and Academic Services team following the completion of the relevant Discipline Committee’s investigation, i.e., on receipt of the formal outcome letter issued by the Student Conduct Office.


A case of misconduct will be referred to as an offence.


The various levels/progression points within a programme and the year in which a student is enrolled. For example, Stage 1 refers to a new start student who has enrolled on the start point of a programme of study.


The penalty is providing no credit for the submitted work, e.g., a component of a coursework or an examination that is under disciplinary investigation. This means the student will get zero for that component. Depending on the severity of a case, the committee may impose the voiding of one or more than one course as penalty. As such, the student who receives this penalty will not receive any marks for those courses, i.e., will receive an invalid grade (IG) for those courses. As a result, the student will not be able to get credit for the course since they did not pass it. If the student has exhausted their opportunities, voiding a course means they may not be able to graduate from the programme in which they enrolled.