In 2016 when we organized the International Conference for Academic Integrity – Middle East Chapter in collaboration with the International Center for Academic Integrity and Clemson University, little did we know how the concluding conversation at the conference would propel us towards ultimately setting up a centre, let alone one that would bring together such a diverse group of passionate, like-minded academics and students to lead the integrity agenda.

During the course of organizing the conference for 2016, twice we found ourselves deciding whether to cancel it or not as there simply weren’t enough submissions coming through from academics within the country. Our keynote speakers, late Tracey Bretag and Teddi Fishman, suggested we open it up internationally, and we were able to go ahead with the conference. Ultimately, out of 20 papers accepted, three papers presented were from academics within the country, with one receiving commendation.

In the course of organizing the conference, we got introduced to European Network for Academic Integrity (ENAI). In 2017, we hosted a PhD student Veronika Kralikova from ENAI for a month at University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD) under Erasmus scholarship. We took Veronika as part of her visit to meet with possible partners to bid to bring ENAI’s annual conference to Dubai. Our bid was strong, with good number of academics from institutions around the country joining hands to not just organize but also present papers reflecting research and we got the opportunity to now host a second conference in UAE!

We continued the roadshows and local symposiums, to go from campus to campus, with more international speakers who joined our roadshows, leading to hosting a virtual conference in 2020 very successfully. Right after the conference, the few of us working at various educational institutes in the UAE got into a video conference and decided it was about time we put our consorted efforts to setting up an independent body that would work to support the entire academic community in the country.

On October 21st, 2020, during the 5th International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating, we launched our Centre for Academic Integrity in the UAE (CAIU) with six founding members:

  • Professor Christopher Hill, Founding Vice President (Affiliation – British University in Dubai)
  • Professor Gomathi KG, Founding Board Member (Affiliation – Gulf Medical University, Ajman)
  • Dr Sreejith Balasubramaniam, Founding Board Member (Affiliation – Middlesex University Dubai Campus)
  • Dr Steven Glasgow, Founding Board Member (Affiliation – Zayed University Dubai)
  • Dr Tim Daly, Founding Board Member (Affiliation – Middlesex University Dubai Campus)
  • Ms Veena Mulani, Founding Board Member (Affiliation – Al Diyafah High School Dubai)

and a host campus that believed in the mission of the Centre and supported us wholeheartedly – UOWD.

With this launch, amid a global pandemic, we began working to see how we could provide support and spread awareness of academic integrity among schools and institutions. One of the very first gaps we recognised was the lack of a safe platform, free of prejudice and judgement where colleagues could share their thoughts, concerns and best practices. We introduced the Practitioners’ Series, inviting faculty and staff from different educational institutions to present their best practices, and how they tackle issues in their class rooms. Following this, an article in the ETICO portal (an IIEP-UNESCO web-based platform) and their subsequent addition of CAIU as a partner link on the website provided us with the push to bring in students.

In early 2021, we realised we needed to expand, but not horizontally (meaning, not more faculty). We were talking about students, we had seen the success and power of student voices when students became partners and we wanted to create a space where students would join us in this journey. We decided to introduce a Student Board and sent a call to partnering institutions to nominate students. Unsure of how much interest we would garner, we were surprised to receive expressions of interest from six students including two high school students. Setting up the board, meeting with students and working with them provided the Founding Board with the energy and fuse to kick start a range of events targeting students such as workshops, master classes, even a Spring Camp as a bridging module for school students as next-level preparedness course!

The students not only handled the communication and social presence for the Centre, also got together to work on abstracts and presented their experiences at the 7th European Conference on Academic Integrity and Plagiarism 2021 and the Canadian Symposium on Academic Integrity 2021.

The student board brought out a podcast, and an Instagram page dedicated to the work they are doing and to spread messages on integrity. For this, the Centre arranged for them to have a session with Veronika Kralikova from ENAI, a successful influencer on Instagram with her own page on Academic Integrity and 1000+ followers.

Over the summer of 2021, our student board felt they needed more student support to help in organizing the awareness campaigns we had in the pipeline. This gave birth to the SB Active Committee that saw a further five students come on board, this time with a middle school student joining as the youngest member from Grade 8.

The Centre also launched the Academic Integrity Consortium Agreement to encourage schools and universities to become partners with the Centre. Our first agreement was signed with Gulf Medical University, Ajman. The agreement allowed the Centre to be affiliated with the university, and for the university to benefit from training of faculty, staff and access to Centre’s resources.

In September, the Centre organized another professional development session for the members inviting Dr. Shambavi Rajagopal, an academic who is an expert in digital marketing, helping the members understand the power of social media and how it can help the Centre spread its messages more effectively.

To mark its first anniversary, the Centre organized a week of activities, which “felt like a year’s worth!” said one of the founding board members. From conceptualizing an inter-school debate championship, to hosting our International Advisory Board members as expert speakers in panels, the faculty and students worked hard over two months planning, initiating, organizing, brainstorming, and ultimately hosting the events with support from Gold Sponsors Ouriginal and Studiosity, and Bronze Sponsor Turnitin.

The debate was an important milestone for the Centre. We didn’t just want students to come and talk or give speeches and showcase their gifts of gab. We wanted to challenge students to think outside the box, to develop critical thinking but in relation to academic integrity, to have the courage to debate issues, to develop a deep understanding of the issues. We invited the student board and active committee to take the ropes of this horse with support from the founding board and they rose to the challenge and delivered a professional setting that left the participants and judges in awe. The participating students didn’t disappoint either. We were bowled by the passion of students from 16 schools who participated to debate on topics of integrity and the judges who gave time over weekends to join in and help score the debates. Hearty congrats to the winning team that walked away with the Rolling Trophy – GEMS New Millennium School Dubai.

During the “Celebrating Academic Integrity” Week, the first session we organized was “Think Calm”, a panel discussion that looked at academic integrity and writing as crucial in the well being of students, especially when talking misconducts and restorative ways forward. The idea for this panel came about when the founding board discussed recent cases of student suicides around the globe and how mental well being had become a critical issue when thinking about upholding integrity in classrooms. Our international speakers were Dr. Salim Razi and Ms. Evangeline Litsa Mourelatos, the session was moderated by Lynda Hyland from Middlesex University Dubai.

The second session, “Integrity begins early” was a fascinating panel of schoolteachers who conversed on the importance of beginning to teach and give importance to integrity from an early age for students because our student board and founding board felt the need to concentrate some of our efforts to K-12 so we could support the community there. The session was moderated by Veena Mulani, Al Diyafah High School Dubai.

The third session “Contracting Education”. For this session, we did not want to conduct a regular panel discussion, we wanted to go the extra mile and make the discussion more authentic. So, this session saw our student board and active committee members present a short film called “Way Back” in segments to discuss with Dr. Thomas Lancaster and Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton as discussion-starter on the various dimensions of a misconduct, how students get pressured, how teachers react, how penalties can impact students and ultimately how the social circle can help students find their way back to integrity. The session was moderated by myself and representatives from the Student Board and Active Committee.

Having had colleagues from different countries, backgrounds and walks of academic life join various discussions, we needed to have a platform for the leaders to come together and discuss where to next. The final session was a face to face “Leaders’ Forum” discussion on academic integrity for the Next50, a panel of thought-leaders from around UAE, including Ministry of Education who engaged in a holistic conversation on the expectations and milestones to cover for the next 50 years as UAE celebrates its golden jubilee. The session was moderated by Professor Christopher Hill, British University in Dubai.

Academic integrity is something to be celebrated. This is a paradigm shift we have seen happen slowly over the decades and we have felt it in this one year. Our focus has been and continues to be a proactive, positive step first. In line with this vision, besides the multi-faceted panel discussions on issues and solutions, the Centre encouraged and organized “pledge parties” at different campuses, ran an impromptu best speaker contest for school students on originality in education, awarded the first Champion of Integrity – Campus Award 2021 to Gulf Medical University Ajman for their efforts upholding the  values of academic Integrity, and shortlisted ASPAM Indian International School and their Principal as Integrity Ambassador, we cut a birthday cake, took whole lot of fun photos and recognised students and leaders for their efforts.

The first year of the Centre was not just a success because we pulled of organizing events.

We witnessed the influence of youth – the student champions who are the driving force behind the Centre.

We saw the fruits of recognition as our partners and supports bloomed into creative geniuses in how they incorporated and celebrated integrity.

We felt the strength of creating a platform that can be a safe place for staff, faculty and students to share their ideas, concerns and hopes.

We were awed by the power of collaboration as more academics, researchers and students showed interest in joining and becoming a part of our community of practice.

What could we do better or different? Well, one thing you may have noticed – our students are all girls. This was neither by design nor thought. We sent out invitations and girls responded. We want to know why. We want to have an answer when next we are asked this question. We want to conduct more research and publish more reports.

We learned and grew this year. The journey has just begun, we are grateful for the support we have received from everyone within the nation and internationally. We excitedly look forward to the next 12 months!