Articles and Case Studies

Breaking the Rules

31 Mar 2014

Julian Walter clover

by Dr Julian Walter

Preparing for examinations can be stressful, but having to deal with a breach of university policy can be a very difficult experience, with serious ramifications. Dr Julian Walter discusses this in more detail…

Case study

In late 2013, an Australian university made news headlines when a number of students were detected recording images (screen grabs) of their exam questions during the end of term exams – in this case, on university iPads. These images were apparently then either sent to students who were due to sit the exam in later terms or left on the iPads for the benefit of the next user. The students’ conduct was exposed by an anonymous tip-off. The university conducted an investigation and disciplinary action was foreshadowed.

Given the widespread publicity involved, the issue understandably caused great anxiety among the student population, especially as the media reported that students were being encouraged to anonymously give information to the university about students who had recorded the images. There was also a suggestion that the matter could be dealt with as breach of copyright or even as a criminal matter (theft). While ultimately this did not eventuate, following investigation under the Academic Misconduct policy, it does demonstrate the strong views that universities may hold regarding such conduct. Public comment made in response to the allegations published in the media was generally very unsupportive of the students’ behaviour.

Know the policy

University by-laws or policy will prohibit academic dishonesty and all students should familiarise themselves with what types of behaviour would potentially be captured under such a policy. Breach of the university policy will typically include broader activities than those traditionally associated with "cheating" and may include knowingly passing on information to other students, or even communicating with other students in the examination venue. Most universities will have made their policies available on their website.

Generally, breach of a specific university policy would be required before a disciplinary process could be initiated.

Understand your university’s rules for your exam

Just because an exam is open book and allows 24 hours for submissions does not automatically mean you can collaborate with other students. Ensure that you understand the limitations the university has placed on sharing of information and collaboration before you embark on such activities. If this information is unclear, ask. This is particularly important when the exam is performed in a less traditional format and the boundaries for acceptable academic behaviour are unclear.

Universities have sophisticated data checking software that can identify plagiarised and copied material. Even identical incorrect answers may result in allegations of academic misconduct being raised as the basis for an investigation.  

Breached the rules? Now what?

Any resulting disciplinary investigation will be carried out in accordance with the relevant university policy. It is important that any affected student understand the process and obtain early advice, particularly as varying levels of alleged academic misconduct may result in different disciplinary pathways with significantly differing outcomes. The right to submit material or to appeal a decision may be governed by strictly limited timeframes, so do not ignore correspondence and requests for submissions.

As each university has its own policy and investigative body, it will usually be appropriate to contact the student body to find out who might be able to assist. Student representatives, whose exact title may vary (e.g. Student Advocate, Student Welfare Officer) are a very helpful resource and will often have considerable expertise in dealing with these matters and be familiar with the specific university policy. It may also be appropriate to contact MDA National for advice.

Summary points

  • Breach of university policy, particularly in the context of academic misconduct, can have serious ramifications for the completion of your undergraduate training.
  • Academic misconduct alone does not constitute sufficient grounds for the university to notify the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) with respect to a student health practitioner.
  • It is appropriate to seek early advice from the student advocate at your university.
  • Members should contact MDA National to enquire if assistance can be provided in the matter – call 1800 011 225 or email


Dr Julian Walter, Medico-legal Adviser, MDA National

Dr Julian Walter is a Career Medical Officer with a background in general medicine and ICU.

Employment Essentials, Regulation and Legislation


Doctors Let's Talk: Get Yourself A Fricking GP

Get yourself a fricking GP stat! is a conversation with Dr Lam, 2019 RACGP National General Practitioner of the Year, rural GP and GP Anesthetics trainee, that explores the importance of finding your own GP as a Junior Doctor.


25 Oct 2022

Systematic efforts to reduce harms due to prescribed opioids – webinar recording

Efforts are underway across the healthcare system to reduce harms caused by pharmaceutical opioids. This 43-min recording of a live webinar, delivered 11 March 2021, is an opportunity for prescribers to check, and potentially improve, their contribution to these endeavours. Hear from an expert panel about recent opioid reforms by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. 

Diplomacy in a hierarchy: tips for approaching a difficult conversation

Have you found yourself wondering how to broach a tough topic of conversation? It can be challenging to effectively navigate a disagreement with a co-worker, especially if they're 'above' you; however, it's vital for positive team dynamics and safe patient care. In this recording of a live webinar you'll have the opportunity to learn from colleagues' experiences around difficult discussions and hear from a diverse panel moderated by Dr Kiely Kim (medico-legal adviser and general practitioner). Recorded live on 2 September 2020.