The Federal Government is cracking down on businesses offering to help tertiary students cheat on their exams and assignments.
Offenders will face up to two years in jail and a $210,000 fine under federal laws designed to crackdown on academic fraudsters. The new law will be introduced as an amendment to the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act, and the bill was set to go before Parliament this year.
Anna Borek, academic partnerships manager at Turnitin, has been working closely with the higher education sector to tackle the problem of contract cheating.
“Contract cheating – where students engage a third-party individual or service to complete their assessments – is widespread and exceptionally difficult to detect,” Borek said.
Research shows that 6% of Australian students have admitted to contract cheating, but the actual number is likely to be higher.
The MyMaster scandal in 2014 brought the issue of contract cheating to the fore, and it had a negative impact on the reputation of Australian students and universities alike.
According to Borek, the impact of such cheating scandals calls into question the very value of Australia’s education system and the safety of our society.
“What is the value of a degree if a student can just buy it?” Borek said.
“Are these people actually able to perform the job their degree qualifies them for? Should they be building our roads? Should they be caring for our sick? Should they be educating our children?”
Borek said that while legislation is part of the solution, universities also need help identifying those students engaging in such behaviour.
“Many of the universities we work with say they simply lack the time and resources needed to secure the proof they need to make an allegation of contract cheating,” she said.
“That is why we’ve collaborated with the education community to create technology that will help them build a strong case.”
To combat contract cheating, Turnitin has developed Authorship Investigate, which provides data-driven insights into whether students are doing their own work. The program organises document metadata, analyses readability scores, and compares the depth and breadth of vocabulary in the student’s work.
Borek said traditional plagiarism-checking solutions often cannot identify it because the submitted work is original writing authored by someone other than the student.
“Authorship Investigate is designed to help those Academic Integrity Officers and/or Misconduct Investigators who suspect students of contract cheating to quickly gather facts, collate information, and make impartial judgments.”
Borek said it is important to note that Authorship Investigate does not make a determination of authorship. Instead it is a tool to help streamline the investigation process.
“Institutions that implement Authorship Investigate also become part of a global community of experts and peers that share what they are learning about contract cheating from identifying it,” Borek said.
“This raises awareness of the problem, best practices for preventing it, and investigating suspect cases.”