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safeguarding standards and improving the quality of UK higher education

International day of action against contract cheating

Date 19/10/2016

​Today (19 October 2016) marks the first ever international day of action against contract cheating. Founded by a group of Canadian, UK and US academics, in partnership with the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, the day of action builds on our report into this growing global problem.

Contract cheating is the term given to the practice of students paying a third party – often known as essay mills - to write assignments which they then submit as their own.

Plagiarism in any form is unacceptable. The Expectations and supporting guidance in the UK Quality Code for Higher Education set this out clearly, stating that providers of higher education must operate equitable, valid and reliable assessment processes. Contract cheating is a particular facet of plagiarism and we have not dealt with this directly until now.

There are several aspects to this problem. There is clearly a demand for these services and a market eager to supply. Advertising is becoming more commonplace, with posters in areas near university campuses, and advertising materials handed directly to students. Studies have found a lack of awareness among students to this seriousness of this practice, finding relaxed attitudes to this type of cheating, or a misunderstanding of the severity of the punishments they might face if discovered. Traditional methods of detection, like text-matching software, do not always work.

We are now taking forward the recommendations in the report, which concentrate on education, deterrence and detection, in partnership with the UK higher education sector as well as agencies across the world. The problem is international, with the internet allowing essay mills and ghostwriters to be based anywhere. The solutions must be international too.

Our next step is to learn from measures to tackle this problem in the USA, Australia and New Zealand, including the effectiveness of targeted legislation, raising students’ awareness and how assessment design can reduce the opportunities for contract cheating.   

If you think you could help and would like to get involved in this work, contact QAA’s Simon Bullock.