The University of Sydney has suspended or expelled 65 students in three years for forging or illegally purchasing doctor's certificates to support special consideration applications.
The data, obtained under the Government Information (Public Access) Act, showed that "falsified documents" were the most common reason for suspension or expulsion. It was almost twice the number of disciplinary actions for academic dishonesty.
The suspensions and expulsions are in response to students "providing either forged or illegally purchased Professional Practice Certificates in support of Special Consideration submissions as per the Course Work policy", the document says.
Special consideration allows students extra time to complete an assessment due to illness, injury or misadventure during the semester or at the time of an examination.
Of the 65 cases, 10 resulted in expulsion, which ranged from one year to a permanent ban. The remaining offences led to suspensions for one or two semesters, with 40 of the cases granted a suspended penalty. Two suspensions were withdrawn due to an appeal, while one expulsion was reduced to a one-year suspension.
Following a non-permanent expulsion, students are required to reapply for admission if they wish to return to the university.
In 2016, the special consideration procedure was moved to an online, centralised system, replacing a faculty-based system. Prior to the overhaul in 2015, 15 students were suspended or expelled for falsifying doctor's certificates.
In 2016 and 2017 this number jumped to 25 cases per year. Since the changes, however, other students have criticised the system as "inhumane", claiming it "lacks compassion".
The university's registrar, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Tyrone Carlin, said he didn't believe there was correlation between the fraudulent certificates and the issues with the special considerations system.
"The system is working great for the majority of students," he said, citing 12,775 special consideration applications in semester one this year.
A spokesman for the university said: "Since the introduction of a centralised process for special considerations, the university has been able to detect more cases of students providing falsified medical documents. The improved detection has resulted in a greater number of serious penalties including suspensions and expulsions."
Nine cases of "fraud" were recorded in addition to the falsified certificates, with one of these cases leading to an expulsion of seven years in 2015.
Rates of expulsion and suspension for sexual harassment and bullying were comparatively low. Over the three years, only one case of "sexual harassment" and four cases of "harassment" (discrimination, harassment or bullying) led to suspension.
Earlier this year, a fourth-year student had her special consideration application rejected following her mother's cancer diagnosis. The student was then asked to provide a medical certificate substantiating that her mother's illness had affected her ability to study.
"Even though I had been able to establish that my mum was sick, I hadn't been able to establish that it was negatively affecting me," the student said.
"I thought it was really insensitive. Especially when you are already going through a hard time, to have to go out of your way to do that."
Her special consideration was approved after she was able to obtain a doctor's certificate from a psychologist verifying that her mother's illness had affected her ability to study, allowing her an extra two weeks to complete the assignment. Despite her mother's ongoing health issues, the student has opted not to use the service this semester.
"My psychologist has left now, and I really didn't want to have to go back and start new with someone else purely for [a special consideration application] reason," she said. "I have just left it alone, although if it was easier I might not have."
In 2016, Honi Soit, the university's student newspaper, reported that a third-year student had her special consideration application rejected despite suffering side-effects from recent chemotherapy treatment for cancer.
The rejection was on the basis that the side effects were a "long-term issue".
"The system in place is strictly regimented which doesn't allow for unique situations," said Georgia Mantle, a fourth-year student. "I've seen students be denied because even though their reasoning is very legitimate, they fall outside the scope of the policy."
The university did not respond when asked whether they had pursued any action to stem the issue of falsified certificates.
"The co-operation of doctors and general practice managers in detecting falsified certificates is critical," a spokesperson said.