Regulator takes aim at international student contract cheating

Two years ago, the regulator of Australia’s higher education institutions – the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) – held workshops around the nation in a bid to stamp-out so-called “contract cheating”, which had proliferated across Australia’s universities:

The aim of the workshops is to provide strategies for institutions to promote academic integrity, address integrity breaches, mitigate risk and build a culture of academic integrity…

“This is not going to be something that suddenly magically fixes every issue we have with academic integrity breaches or contract cheating, but I think there is real momentum,” [University of South Australia associate professor of higher education Tracey Bretag] said.

“What we’re seeing and hearing anecdotally is that instead of outsourcing a paper to somebody else they will, for example, find an article written on a subject in a language that they understand and they’ll put it through a translation tool into English, then they’ll put that through a paraphrasing tool,” she said.

Last year, TEQSA also established a higher education integrity unit to work with higher education providers and government agencies to take action on cheating.

Now TESQSA is seeking to block internet access to alleged academic cheating services:

[TESQSA has taken] action in the Federal Court to block access to Indian-based website…

The Indian website advertises itself as a “professional assignment service” for Australia, the UK, the US and Gulf countries, ­offering the “best academic ­writers for hire”, guaranteeing “no plagiarism”.

“We are known as reliable last minute assignment writing service,” the website says.

It claims it covers “popular subjects” including accounting, ­finance, management, economics, statistics, human resource management, business law and taxation, programming, computer science and engineering.

Obviously, students wanting to cheat could easily sidestep the website block by utilising a virtual private network (VPN). So these changes are unlikely to have much of an impact.

Let’s be honest here: the rise in contract cheating across Australia’s universities relates directly to the boom in international students from non-English speaking nations.

As these numbers boomed, reports of “contract cheating” proliferated.

For example, in 2014 “functionally illiterate Chinese students were embroiled in an elaborate “ghost writing” scandal.

In 2015, ABC’s Four Corners’ “Degrees of deception” report documented widespread cheating by international students, with one university lecturer claiming half of their students had engaged in plagiarism.

Around the same time, dozens of international students across New South Wales were caught in an elaborate cheating racket, prompting a strong rebuke from the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

At the beginning of 2019, international student associations demanded regulation of overseas agents amid systemic cheating on English language tests.

Whereas Four Corners’ “Cash Cows” report on Australia’s international student trade highlighted systemic plagiarism and misconduct by international students.

Finally in July 2019, The AFR reported that “cheating has spread like wildfire” across Australia’s universities, driven by international students, whereas The ABC reported a “proliferation of ghostwriting” services targeted at international students.

The underlying problem is that Australia’s higher education system was turned into a commodity, with universities selling places to international students to maximise profits.

Basically, Australia’s universities gutted entry standards in order to boost enrolments, which meant that almost any international student qualified to study so long as they can pay the fees. And because these international students paid so much money upfront, and lacked the necessary English language skills to succeed, they inevitably turned to contract cheating services to ensure they passed.

The real victims here are Australian students who had the quality of their education badly eroded as universities dumbed down courses to cater to those with poor English skills.

The underlying solution is to treat the problem at its source by targeting a smaller intake of higher quality students via:

  1. Raising entry standards (particularly English-language proficiency);
  2. Raising financial requirements needed to enter Australia; and
  3. Removing the link between studying, work rights and permanent residency.

Basically, international education needs to become a genuine export industry rather than a people importing immigration industry.

We must restore Australia’s universities back to being about ‘higher learning’ rather than ‘higher earning’.

Unconventional Economist
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  1. Yet more unfounded allegations and gross exaggerations based on a clear foundation of racism and bigotry. Clearly you have failed to grasp the unearned privilege you possess by understanding the native language of the foreign country in which your chosen university is located. Furthermore, your suggestion that students (particularly those whom identify as POC) should only be awarded a university qualification based solely (or primarily) on their ability to understand, recall and apply course material is highly offensive. It clearly demonstrates your failure to understand the concept of equity, likely driven by your predisposition towards white supremacists ideals, such as equality and meritocracy.

    Your organisation clearly needs an immediate action plan to remedy this wrong think. Where is your corporate policy on diversity, inclusion and intersectionality? Whom should I contact at your HR department to voice my concerns and express my dissatisfaction as a concerned anti-racist/POC advocate?

  2. run to the hillsMEMBER

    Haha, the cheating in the vocational training sector is on a whole other level, it’s rampant and fully condoned by the dodgy schools, I’ve personally witnessed a migration agent provide the details of a cheating service together with course enrolment documents. The dodgy agents get fat commissions from the schools of course and also the cheating services. Based on the number of international enrolments in Australia these services must have cash in hand revenue well into the tens of millions of dollars.

    • Yep, I know of one young lass completing an “accounting” course at one of these places (here on study visa) and for all her assignments she just copies the answers from past papers straight onto hers. All provided as ‘study’ material by the institute.
      I was furious but had to bite my tongue since I am an acquaintance.

  3. Is there any better evidence of the bs jobs argument and failure of tertiary edu than groups of students contracting out all their assessments and still confident of delivering in the modern workforce? Bring on UBI, I’m done with this farce of an economy

    • So what is different between what they do and the modern workforce? Key rationale behind key decisions are contracted out to consulting firms. Many back office functions are offshored.

      • RobotSenseiMEMBER

        “I successfully completed a four-year business degree by leveraging relationships with external contractors to deliver milestones to key stakeholders”

        “You’re hired”

  4. I expect this only applies to Aussie students. International students can’t be expected to comply with such an imposition.

  5. Institutions of higher learning have become institutions of higher earning. This happened 15-20 years ago. In fact the rot started closer to 30 years ago now. Any self-respecting academic moved on decades ago,

  6. David WilsonMEMBER

    A bloody disgrace at all levels condoned by greedy University employees and managers.
    This stuff should be made a crime.