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“Everyone at risk”: Uni and USU crack down on contract cheating

Screens and posters on campus warn that “contract cheating puts everyone at risk”

"Everyone at risk" warns a digital screen: University of Sydney "Everyone at risk" warns a digital screen: University of Sydney

The University of Sydney (USyd) has ramped up its campus-wide campaign against contract cheating, rolling out posters and notices on digital screens across campus this month that highlight its threat to the University’s academic integrity and reputation.

“Contract cheating puts everyone at risk. We all have a responsibility to stop contract cheating in its tracks,” a screen reads in Scitech Library. The digital notices include scannable QR codes which take students to a page with further information on the USyd website.

Concerns with contract cheating have extended beyond the University administration.

The University of Sydney Union’s (USU) 2019 Welcome Festival saw at least two stalls shut down after they promoted contract cheating materials.

USU President Liliana Tai told Honi that the stalls handed out materials which were mostly in Chinese characters.

Although the USU and University have a vetting process in which stall-holders at the Welcome Festival are reviewed and background website and credential checks are undertaken, the infringing materials originated from sponsors of the stall-holders.

According to Tai, the USU was not advised of those sponsors prior to the Welcome Festival.

“We are updating our processes so that companies will be required to advise of any other sponsors involved in their site,” Tai said.

“We are also working with the Uni to develop a comprehensive list of offending brands and companies. It is acknowledged that this is difficult as they front up using different brands as soon as one is identified as a contract cheating front.”

The USU is planning to provide air time on its media channels to deliver the University’s message that contract cheating is not permitted.

Tai confirmed the USU shares the University’s no-tolerance stance against contract cheating.

The groundwork for the latest campaign was laid last year when Deputy Vice Chancellor Professor Pip Pattison warned of the varying risks of contract cheating.

“The emerging forms of contract cheating also expose you to risks to your personal security and welfare,” Pattison said in an email to all students back in November.

In early March this year, USyd lodged a submission to the Higher Education Stands Panel, supporting the need for legislative action to be taken against the provision and advertisement of commercial cheating services.

“The University of Sydney is keen to see legislative action taken against the provision and advertisement of commercial cheating services and views the legislation in place in New Zealand as a useful starting point.”

Contract cheating is, however, only a small part of the University’s broader concern towards rising trends of academic dishonesty.

According to a recent Educational Integrity Trend Report, there were 1460 cases of academic honesty breaches in Semester 1 2017, compared to 1840 cases in Semester 1 2018.

Despite the upwards trend, contract cheating allegations still only amounted to 50 total allegations of academic dishonesty in the first half of 2018. There were 800 allegations of plagiarism over the same period.

Labelled a “wicked problem” by Acting Registrar Associate Professor Peter McCallum, contract cheating occurs when an individual contributes to or completes assessments on another student’s behalf, frequently as part of a contract in which the individual is compensated.

Over 60 USyd students paid for essays written by contract cheating service ‘MyMaster’ in 2015, according to an investigation by the Sydney Morning Herald.

A quick Google search reveals hundreds of “Essay Help” and “Custom Writing” services which see students engage “ghost writers,” whom they have never met and often cannot contact, for tasks ranging from proofreading to thesis writing. Many of these services, like Australian Help, guarantee student confidentiality and encrypt personal information.

Contract cheating attempts will soon be complicated by the release of Turnitin’s new Authorship Investigate platform.

Authorship Investigate deploys iterative machine learning techniques, including forensic linguistic analysis and natural language processing to make cases of contract cheating easier to detect. In a recent Turnitin press release, CEO Chris Caren said Authorship Investigate was now available to be introduced into the higher education market.

UNSW is amongst three other Australian universities that have already purchased the software.