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Academic Integrity

International students may face additional challenges with issues surrounding academic integrity due to language and cultural reasons.

The belltower is light in red at night.

As all students are held to the same standards at NC State where academic integrity is concerned, it is important to understand that this concept may be a new and unfamiliar one for many of our international students as it is steeped in the Western philosophy of higher education. Care should be given to explicitly talk to all students about this issue.

While some behaviors are intentional acts of academic misconduct, many behaviors that are also defined as academic integrity violations may not be as deliberate. Many students do not consciously set out to deceive their professors by submitting work that is not their own. In most cases, international students commit academic integrity violations for the same reasons as domestic students: pressure to succeed, lack of confidence, and poor time management skills. However, international students may also deal with academic integrity violations for reasons rooted in their language and culture.

Because of these unique considerations surrounding international students and academic integrity, it is helpful for professors to be explicit about their expectations for all graded and ungraded work, providing models wherever available. 

Unique considerations

English Ability and Role of the Author

Many non-native English speaking students report a lack of confidence in their English ability. While they fully meet the English requirements to attend NC State, they may not be able to express themselves as fluently as their domestic peers when speaking or writing about abstract or unfamiliar topics.  

Furthermore, some students may lack the skills to accurately paraphrase an author’s ideas, or they do so in such a way that is too similar in structure to the original content. Unfortunately, there are international students who think that substituting synonyms is an acceptable method of paraphrasing unless they are explicitly taught otherwise. There are also cultural reasons for a student’s reluctance or inability to paraphrase. As many international students see other authors or scholars as the ultimate experts on a given topic, they automatically assume that the author’s words could not be expressed any better than they already are. Under this assumption, some students indicate that even the attempt at paraphrasing would be insulting to the author.  


  • If paraphrasing and summarizing difficulties seem to be strictly a language related issue, it may be helpful to send students to the Writing and Speaking Tutorial Center for additional one-on-one assistance. For all students, it is recommended to remind them that being able to summarize and paraphrase an author’s key ideas using their own words is an essential skill and that it in no way demonstrates any disrespect to the original author. Furthermore, students must be taught to be selective and discriminatory in their use of direct quotations.

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Academic Inquiry and Citations

Citing others’ work has a long tradition within the Western context of higher education. The concept that ideas can be “owned” and must be attributed is a significant factor in understanding how academic writing contributes to broader scholarly conversations. While this is not necessarily a new concept for most international students, the understanding of the importance and the mechanics of citation styles are often very new.


  • It is important to emphasize the dialog that takes place among scholars and to explain that we insert ourselves into that academic conversation by giving proper credit to those who have come before us. Help students understand that this is not only a sign of respect but that it also allows others to track the progression of the dialog and reference others’ works in their own inquiries.

Professors, especially in the humanities, may encounter two common scenarios: (1) papers dominated by citations and (2) papers with few to no citations. Both scenarios stem from the reality that many international students do not feel qualified to have their own opinions or thoughts about a given topic and, therefore, simply rehash what other experts have said. Papers that completely lack citations are generally the product of students who have not learned to properly cite work, are unclear on when to cite something, or are overly confident in their ability to summarize or paraphrase an author’s words or ideas.


  • Resources should be provided to students on the style of citations required for a given class as well as models of successful work, if available.

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Cultural Variations and Academic Integrity

Many international students at NC State come from collectivist cultures where the interests of the group are emphasized over the interests of the individual. In that context, students may feel a sense of obligation to assist fellow classmates with assignments as not doing so could affect that student’s place within their peer group and social hierarchy.  


  • Discussing your expectations surrounding the completion of any and all assignments will be helpful in the prevention of unauthorized collaboration. It is important to begin this discussion with written expectations provided through the syllabus and/or the assignment itself.
  • Remind students that independent work is the default expectation unless you tell them otherwise. This is especially useful for work that students may interpret as low-stakes, such as homework assignments, online forum postings, responses to reflection prompts, etc. Some students may not understand that the academic integrity policy applies to all forms of academic evaluation, not just high-stakes evaluations like midterms and final exams. For these reasons, it is necessary to state clearly whether collaboration of any kind will be permitted.

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“Common Knowledge”

Faculty often advise students that “background information” or “common knowledge” is something that everyone possesses and need not be cited. This type of guidance can be misinterpreted or misunderstood by those who are unfamiliar with citation guidelines or those with very little exposure to academic writing. Without additional context or clarification, some international students may add entire sections of “common knowledge” to a paper or lab report that were copied without citation from an outside source. Students in this situation may express confusion when confronted with accusations of plagiarism.


  • When discussing expectations with your students, it could be more beneficial to focus on the necessity of using citations when taking material verbatim rather than attempting to describe the parameters of what constitutes “common knowledge.”

Related to this topic, it is also helpful to consider questions of perspective when referencing common knowledge. Specifically, who decides what common knowledge is? What constitutes common knowledge to an international student may not be so common for a professor in the U.S. This is not just an issue that arises between cultures, but it also becomes a concern as students begin to develop higher levels of expertise in their area of study. As a student becomes more comfortable discussing specific topics within their discipline, they may not immediately understand that citations are still needed.


  • Help your students reflect on this concept with questions like, “Would someone from another country or culture understand this as common knowledge?” or “Would someone from another discipline understand what I am saying?”

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Assessments and Evaluation

U.S. higher education is unique in that it utilizes a multitude of assessments, projects, papers, and exams to demonstrate mastery of course objectives. The benefit of this is that students have several opportunities to influence their final grades and that they will interact with the knowledge presented in the course in different ways.  

Many international students, however, come from an educational background where midterms and final exams are the only requirements of their final grades. Other assignments, if any, are typically considered optional. Homework – as a professor in the U.S. might define it – is usually not assigned or evaluated. When students from these educational settings come to the U.S., they are often overwhelmed by the amount of work expected of them and have difficulty managing their time. This may result in panicked reactions and expressions of anxiety. In some instances, students who feel pressured to cut corners might resort to cheating.


  • Giving students suggestions for breaking down a project into smaller parts and assigning deadlines throughout a major assignment may relieve some of this anxiety.

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Paper Mills

These services vary in quality and price and offer to complete any written assignment for a student on practically any given topic and at any academic degree level. Keep in mind that papers written by these services are original pieces of work and will often not be caught by plagiarism detecting software unless the same or similar paper has been sold to multiple students.


  • Be sure to include small writing assignments as part of your class in order to establish a baseline of a student’s writing ability.  Make sure that your assignments are specific to the content of the topic of instruction and require the use of material covered in lectures or other course resources.

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Pressure to Succeed

Most international students feel an incredible sense of pressure to succeed, to please their parents, and to obtain gainful employment after graduation. The same could be said for domestic students as well. One unique aspect of many international students’ experience is the keen awareness of their family’s financial investment in them and the opportunity for overseas education. Academic failure can bring enormous shame to both the student and their family. In order to prevent that outcome, some international students will go to great lengths to avoid letting their families down. In some cases, unfortunately, students may rationalize cheating behaviors as a necessary means to avoid these types of negative personal and social consequences.


  • As mentioned previously, there are many ways to help students reduce the level of academic pressure they may be experiencing; this includes breaking down large projects into smaller parts and assigning multiple deadlines or “checkpoints” throughout a major assignment.  

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Walk-In Advising for International Students

International students are invited to receive guidance on a variety of academic questions and concerns from the Academic Coordinator for International Student Support, Tony Shurer.

Final Thoughts and Resources

Academic integrity involves many important components and can be a challenging topic of conversation for international and domestic students alike. International students, in particular, tend to be unfamiliar with the importance of academic integrity within the culture of U.S. higher education. Help students understand that academic integrity is a shared community value, and remind them of the importance of seeking clarification when they have questions about your expectations.

  • The Office of Student Conduct provides many resources for students and faculty as well as helpful FAQ pages.
  • The Office of International Services is available to meet with students who may have questions about the impact of academic misconduct on their immigration records.  
  • The Counseling Center is available to meet with students who are experiencing personal challenges that may be impacting their academic performance.
  • The Academic Coordinator for International Student Support (Academic Advising Programs & Services) is also available to meet with students who are seeking guidance about being a successful student in this academic community.  

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