The University considers that allegations of assessment offences relating to research study undertaken by postgraduate researchers for the purpose of an MPhil or Doctoral level award are serious, and must be investigated accordingly. All students of the University, including postgraduate researchers, are subject to the University’s published policy about academic integrity and assessment offences (PDF).
PGR15.1 Regulations about the investigation of assessment offence allegations, possible outcomes and applicable penalties
PGR15.1.1R Assessment offence allegations made against postgraduate researchers (PGRs) registered on an MPhil or doctoral level award (including those who are also members of University Staff or affiliated Staff) will be investigated under the University’s Academic Regulations and Procedures.
- Assessment offence allegations made against PGRs relating to the assessment of taught elements of the award for which UWE Bristol credit is awarded (e.g. taught modules) will be investigated in accordance with procedures at Part F4 of the University Regulations and Procedures.
- Assessment offence allegations made against PGRs relating to the assessment of the research project, the thesis or the critical commentary (MPhil/DPhil by publication), or any other element of research undertaken directly relating to the award, will be investigated under PGR regulations and procedures at Part PGR 15. The investigation will align with the principles of the University Code of Good Research Conduct as appropriate.
- Allegations of research misconduct relating to any other area of research with which the postgraduate researcher is connected will be investigated under procedures set out in the University Code of Good Research Conduct.
PGR15.1.2R Investigation of assessment offence allegations will normally be led by the Chair of the Faculty Research Degrees Committee (FRDC) for the faculty in which the PGR is registered, who will act as the Executive Dean’s nominee. If there is potential for conflict of interest, the allegation will be investigated by another member of the FRDC, or the Chair of the FRDC for another Faculty.
PGR15.2.1R Summary of possible outcomes and applicable penalties
Offence: poor scholarship
Nature of offence committed: Incomplete, inaccurate or missing citation in a small number of instances
Normal penalty to be applied, or range of penalties where there is more than one available.
- Details of areas for concern are included in written feedback and sent to both the candidate and the Director of Studies (DoS), who must meet to agree a plan of action to improve the candidate’s understanding of good academic practice and any further training needed;
- All examples must be rectified within the work concerned;
- Poor scholarship within a thesis submitted for final examination will be raised as part of the viva process and will require correction and/or amendment as appropriate;
- No offence will be recorded on the candidate’s student file/record.
Offence: first and lesser offence (not applicable for offences found in a thesis submitted for final examination)
Nature of offence committed: Evidence shows plagiarism or other assessment offence of a minor nature in terms of volume with very little significance to the piece of work overall.
Normal penalty to be applied, or range of penalties where there is more than one available.
- FRDC Chair/Panel issues a formal written warning to the candidate copied to the DoS, advising that further offences will be deemed ‘serious’ and may result in a severe penalty being applied from the range described;
- The offence is recorded on the candidate’s student file/record until graduation;
- Candidate and DoS must meet to agree an action plan as above which will be subject to FRDC scrutiny;
- All examples must be rectified within the work concerned.
All other offences
Including first and serious offence; second/subsequent offences; all offences detected within the thesis after its submission for final examination, other than instances of poor scholarship
Nature of offence committed: Evidence shows plagiarism or other assessment offence that:
- Is not extensive and is of relatively minor significance to the piece of work or thesis; or
- Is extensive amounting to a considerable portion of the piece of work or thesis, or there are numerous occurrences throughout the work; or
- Is significant and compromises the academic integrity of piece of work or thesis as a whole; or
- The candidate has committed a second/subsequent offence, where previously found guilty of a first offence.
Normal penalty to be applied, or range of penalties where there is more than one available.
- Affected material is redacted within the work and RDAB permits the assessment to go ahead; or
- Candidate is required to resubmit the work or thesis for assessment in a manner and within a timescale approved by RDAB, no further resubmission outcome permitted; or
- Candidate is required to withdraw by RDAB and their registration is terminated, no resubmission is permitted. The candidate will not qualify for the award on which they are registered;
- In all cases, the offence will be recorded on the candidate’s student file/record and included in future academic references.
PGR is required to withdraw, registration is terminated and no award is made.
PGR15.2.2R Where the offence committed is sufficiently serious, the Research Degrees Award Board may require the PGR to withdraw. Their registration will be terminated and no award will be made. In the case of an offence in work submitted for final assessment, this decision will override regulation PGR14.3.4R and the PGR candidate may be withdrawn without a viva voce examination.
Procedures for investigating assessment offence allegations in PGR research
These procedures are used for investigating assessment offence allegations within research relating postgraduate research degree awards as defined at PGR15.1.1R ii) only.
PGR15.3 Summary of the investigative processes for assessment offences
The process is summarised in this diagram (PDF), Diagrammatic summary of investigative processes for allegations about assessment offences.
PGR15.4 Initial allegation – an offence is suspected
PGR15.4.1 A person who considers that a postgraduate researcher (PGR) has committed an assessment offence within research work submitted for assessment or review must report the allegation in writing as soon as possible to the Chair of the Faculty Research Degrees Committee (FRDC) for the faculty in which the PGR is registered. Preliminary evidence to support the allegation should also be included.
PGR15.4.2 Where the allegation concerns work that has already been submitted by the PGR for final assessment (e.g. thesis or critical commentary), the allegation should be reported to a PGR Assessment Manager within the Graduate School first. The Assessment Manager will liaise with the FRDC Chair and will suspend the final assessment process and/or postpone the viva voce examination if this is necessary while further investigation of the allegation is carried out.
Additional procedures for final assessment – the initial allegation arises during the examiner’s pre-meeting or the in the viva itself
PGR15.4.3 Where serious concerns that an assessment offence has occurred arise only once the examiners have assembled or during the viva itself, then the examiner should raise their concern with the Independent Chair who is responsible for the conduct of the viva.
PGR15.4.4 Following a brief discussion with the examining panel in camera (in private), the Chair will decide whether the viva should continue or, in extremis, should be stopped.
PGR15.4.5 Where the viva continues, the examiners may question the candidate about areas of concern within the thesis/critical commentary and this should be clearly recorded in the examiners outcome report (RD12). If at the end of the viva, the examiners are not confident that the thesis/critical commentary is the candidate’s own work, then this should be indicated in the relevant section of the RD12 report.
PGR15.4.6 In either eventuality, the Chair of the Research Degrees Award Board (RDAB) will consider whether an investigation should be initiating the process described below, and if so will refer the case to the relevant FRDC Chair.
An assessment offence is discovered after the final assessment has been completed but before the degree has been awarded
PGR15.4.7 Where an assessment offence is later found to have occurred within work submitted and assessed for an award, the RDAB may decide to disagree with the recommended outcome made by the examiners.
PGR15.5 Preliminary investigation by the FRDC Chair
PGR15.5.1 The FRDC Chair will consider the preliminary evidence to decide whether there is a case to answer and if further investigation is needed.
No case to answer
PGR15.5.2 If the FRDC Chair decides that there is no case to answer, the investigation process will cease. No offence will be recorded on the PGR’s student file/record.
PGR15.5.3 If the FRDC Chair decides at this preliminary stage that the problem is one of a poor level of scholarship, they will inform the PGR and their Director of Studies of this in writing. The work must be corrected as part of ongoing supervision and the Director of Studies will provide advice and guidance to the PGR on good research practice and discuss what further training should be undertaken.
PGR15.5.4 Where poor scholarship is identified in the final submission (thesis or critical commentary), this will be addressed as part of the viva process through required amendments.
PGR15.5.5 In either event, no offence will be recorded on the PGR’s student file/record.
PGR15.6 There is a case to answer and the further investigation process
PGR15.6.1 Where the FRDC Chair finds that there is a case to answer, i.e. the preliminary evidence indicates that an offence has occurred, they will liaise with the Graduate School about the further investigation process which will be undertaken to gather detailed evidence and determine the seriousness of the offence, and about the application of the PGR academic regulations. This may include use of approved text matching software. They may also invite another member of the FRDC unconnected with the PGR or the research project to assist them with this investigation.
PGR15.6.2 From this point onwards, the PGR’s Director of Studies/supervision team will play no part in the investigation, other than to provide information or evidence as required by the FRDC Chair.
PGR15.6.3 It is for the FRDC Chair to determine both the volume and significance of the suspect work to the research project as a whole, and the seriousness of any offence. In doing so, they may need to seek advice from other colleagues with subject expertise who are unconnected with the PGR or the research project, or consult the appointed examiners in the case of work submitted for final assessment where this is appropriate e.g. where the examiners have had sight of the work.
PGR15.7 Informing the postgraduate researcher about the assessment offence allegation against them
Responsibilities of the FRDC Chair
PGR15.7.1 Once it has been determined that further investigation is necessary, the FRDC Chair will write to the PGR as follows:
- Informing them of the nature of the allegation, the preliminary investigation outcome, and the further investigation process which is being followed;
- Providing an opportunity for the PGR to admit or deny the offence, or decide to make no plea, on the basis of the preliminary findings;
- Inviting them to a meeting to discuss the allegation, the supporting evidence, and the possible outcomes of the investigation;
- Advising them that they may be accompanied at the meeting by a friend or a UWE Bristol Student Union representative;
- The letter will also advise the PGR that they will have a further opportunity to admit or deny the offence or amend a plea at the meeting.
The letter will be sent to the PGR’s UWE Bristol email address and by post to their registered address.
PGR15.7.2 The nature and complexity of allegations about doctoral level work means that this further investigation stage of the process is likely to take some time. The letter to the PGR should indicate if this is the case and, if possible, provide an estimate of when the investigation stage is likely to be concluded. Updates will need to be issued if the investigation takes significantly longer than estimated.
If the PGR has any queries about the nature of the investigation process, they may seek guidance from a PGR Assessment Manager in the Graduate School.
Responsibilities of the PGR
PGR15.7.3 The PGR will have five working days from the date of this letter to reply:
- admitting or denying the offence, or making no plea;
- accepting or declining the meeting invitation and, if accepting, to indicate whether they wish to be accompanied as above.
PGR15.7.4 Even if the PGR admits or denies the offence in this reply, they may still take up the invitation to meet with the FRDC Chair in order to discuss the evidence, the implications of the offence, and/or amend a previous plea.
PGR15.7.5 If the PGR does not reply or declines the meeting invitation without good reason, the Chair will move to consider the outcome of the investigation; the PGR will have no further opportunity to meet and explain their actions or submit mitigating evidence at this stage.
PGR15-8 Meeting between the FRDC Chair and the PGR
PGR15.8.1 The Graduate School will email attendees with the date, time and venue for the meeting. The meeting will also be attended by a Graduate School PGR Assessment Manager who will advise on regulatory matters and make a short written note of the proceedings for subsequent circulation to attendees. The Chair may also invite another member of the FRDC or other academic member of staff with relevant subject expertise, who is unconnected with the project, the supervisory team, or the PGR, and who may also put questions to/answer questions from the PGR about the work under scrutiny.
PGR15.8.2 At the meeting, the PGR will be given the opportunity to explain the motivation behind their actions and/or present mitigating evidence. At the discretion of the FRDC Chair, the identity of the person making the allegation may be withheld from the PGR. The Chair will outline the body of evidence collected, including the results of any checks using text-matching software, and why this indicates that an offence has occurred.
PGR15.8.3 Having been advised of the nature and seriousness of the case against them and of the possible implications, the PGR will be asked to either admit the offence or to deny the offence and may amend any previous plea.
PGR15.8.4 If the PGR admits the offence, no investigation panel will be necessary. The FRDC Chair will subsequently decide an appropriate outcome from the range summarised at PGR 15.2.1R and proceed to written warning or recommended penalty, dependent upon whether it is a first and lesser offence, a serious offence, or an offence concerning the final submission.
If the PGR denies the offence, then an investigation panel must be convened and the Research Degrees Award Board must be notified of the situation.
PGR15.9 The investigation panel
PGR15.9.1 The Panel will comprise:
- Chair of panel: the FRDC Chair for the faculty in which the PGR is registered;
- Members of the panel:
- A further member of the same FRDC;
- A member of the FRDC of a different faculty;
- An optional subject expert where necessary.
- In attendance: A Graduate School PGR Assessment Manager.
All members of the panel will have no connection to the PGR, the supervisory team, or the research project.
PGR15.9.2 The PGR Assessment Manager will keep a note of the discussion, present evidence of the investigation as requested by the Chair, and provide guidance on the application of the PGR academic regulations.
PGR15.9.3 The PGR will be invited to submit a written statement and to appear before the panel. They may be accompanied by a friend or representative from the UWE Bristol Students Union who may speak on their behalf.
PGR15.9.4 Notification of the date, time, venue and arrangements for the panel meeting will be given by the Graduate School.
PGR15.9.5 The purpose of the panel is to review the evidence, confirm whether an offence has occurred and its seriousness, and in so doing decide an outcome from the range described at PGR 15.2.1R, together with a penalty recommendation to the Research Degrees Award Board.
PGR15.9.6 As part of this process, the panel may require any individual to attend the panel meeting and/or submit a written statement; it may also consult with appointed examiners in the case of work submitted for the final assessment where the examiners have had sight of the work.
PGR15.10 The possible outcomes of the investigation, recommending a penalty and reporting to the Research Degrees Award Board
PGR15.10.1 Where an offence is found to have occurred, the FRDC Chair/Panel will decide an outcome and recommend a penalty from the range at PGR15.2.1R for consideration by RDAB. The Chair or the Panel will also report a summary of their findings to the Board.
PGR15.10.2 In deciding the outcome of the investigation and an appropriate penalty, the Chair or Panel will take into account:
- The volume of the offending material as a proportion of the work submitted as a whole;
- The significance of the offending material in terms of its impact upon the academic integrity of the PGR’s research project as a whole;
- Whether the PGR has previously been found to have committed an assessment offence;
- Whether there is evidence to suggest that the PGR committed the offence deliberately and, if having done so, with intent to deceive (i.e. made a deliberate attempt to conceal the offence by further manipulation of the offending material)
For example: the offending material may be limited to one part of the work and be of relatively minor significance to the main arguments of the PGR’s research, such that it could be redacted (removed without amendment) and the assessment could go ahead without resubmission. Or it may be extensive and/or significant, compromising the academic integrity of the research as a whole in which case a resubmission penalty or withdrawal of registration altogether might be an appropriate penalty recommendation.
PGR15.10.3 The exception to this reporting process will be in the case of a first and lesser offence found in work prior to final submission at PGR15.11 below.
PGR15.11 First and lesser offences prior to the final submission
PGR15.11.1 Where the FRDC Chair finds that a first and lesser offence has been committed in work prior to the final submission, and the postgraduate researcher (PGR) has admitted the offence, they will issue a written warning to the PGR, copied to the Director of Studies and recorded on the PGR’s student file/record. This letter will:
- Include details of the offence within the work - all examples must be rectified;
- Warn the PGR that any further offence will be judged to be serious and may result in a severe penalty being applied from the range at PGR 15.2.1R;
- Require the DoS and the PGR to develop an action plan to improve the PGR’s understanding of good academic practice and identify what further training may be needed.
The FRDC Chair will report the outcome to the FRDC and to RDAB.
PGR15.11.2 The Director of Studies and the PGR must meet as soon as possible on receipt of this written warning and submit the action plan to the next scheduled meeting of the FRDC for scrutiny.
PGR15.11.3 Where the PGR denies the offence and a subsequent investigative panel finds that a first and lesser offence has occurred, the outcome and the written warning will be issued by the panel in the same way, but the findings of the panel’s investigation (summarised in a report) as well as the outcome must be reported to RDAB.
PGR15.11.4 If no further offence is committed by the PGR during the remainder of their registration with the University, this first offence will be expunged (deleted) from their student record upon graduation and no mention will be made in future academic references provided by the University.
PGR15.12 Deciding the penalty and its application
PGR15.12.1 RDAB will consider the findings of the investigation and any recommended penalty made by the FRDC Chair/Panel. The Board will decide any penalty to be imposed within the range permitted at PGR15.2.1R, but may not revise the outcome or findings of the assessment offence investigation itself. The Board may decide to:
- agree the recommended assessment penalty and its application;
- vary the recommended assessment penalty and/or its application;
- disagree with the recommended assessment penalty and impose a different penalty within the range permitted.
Note: Assessment offence penalties for PGRs registered on an award validated or accredited by a professional or statutory body may be constrained by the regulations of those bodies.
PGR15.12.2 Where the offence is found to be serious and the PGR is registered on a Professional Doctorate or other award involving professional practice, RDAB may also decide that the case should be referred for consideration under the University’s Professional Suitability policy and procedures. In such cases, the Board may exceptionally decide to defer its penalty decision until the outcome of any investigation under that procedure is concluded.
PGR15.12.3 RDAB will notify the PGR in writing of the outcome of the investigation and the penalty that is to be applied.
PGR15.13 Assessment of the work continues with redaction of offending material
PGR15.13.1 In deciding to allow the assessment to go ahead with the offending material redacted, the Board (RDAB) must be confident that there is sufficient unaffected material such that the work is assessable. The offending material is obscured or ‘blacked out’ but the work is not otherwise amended and is returned to the independent reviewers/examiners. It is obvious where this redaction has happened within the work; the PGR candidate is not given the opportunity to further amend or re-present the remaining work.
PGR15.13.2 In all other respects, the assessment will be carried out in accordance with normal assessment regulations and procedures, except that in the case of final assessment, the PGR candidate cannot subsequently be recommended by the examiners for a ‘straight pass’ outcome without further correction or amendment (PGR14.4.1R A.i), as amendment of the work to ensure that the offending material is removed will be necessary. All other final assessment outcomes are available.
PGR15.14 Resubmission of the work/thesis for assessment and assessment outcomes available
PGR15.14.1 In deciding that the work must be resubmitted, RDAB will decide how long the PGR has to revise the material and resubmit it for assessment but this will normally be a matter of a few weeks rather than months. The resubmitted thesis will be checked using University approved text-matching software prior to being sent to examiners.
PGR15.14.2 In the case of final assessment, RDAB may either retain the existing examining panel or require the appointment of a new examining panel in part or in full.
PGR15.14.3 The PGR will have no further opportunity to resubmit the work as an outcome of this assessment; i.e. the PGR must achieve either a pass outcome from the range available, or will be failed.
PGR15.14.4 In the case of final assessment the full range of pass outcomes at PGR14.4.1R A i) to iv) is available. In the case of PhD or DPhil candidates, examiners may recommend an outcome of MPhil with amendments (outcome PGR 14.4.1R C i), but there will be no opportunity to resubmit for assessment for MPhil (outcome C ii.).
PGR15.15 PGR is required to withdraw, registration is terminated and no award is made
See regulation at PGR15.2.2R.
PGR15.16 Appealing against the decision of the Research Degrees Award Board
PGR15.16.1 PGRs may appeal against the decision of RDAB only on the grounds that there has been material and significant administrative error or other material irregularity, eg. in this instance, that the investigation was not carried out properly in accordance with published processes in Part S1 of this handbook.
PGR15.16.2 The processes governing the consideration of appeals for all students of the University including PGRs are described at appendix H2 of the UWE Bristol Academic Regulations and Procedures. See also the University’s appeals webpages.
Further information about avoiding assessment offences and sources of support and guidance about good academic practice, paraphrasing and referencing your work can be accessed via part 5 of this handbook – PGR personal conduct and expectations.