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Domestic students just as likely to cheat as international students

Contract cheating is due to wide range of factors, not just students' nationalities. Source: Shutterstock

International students get a lot of flak from their host countries.

There are memes depicting them as ultra-rich Lamborghini-driving brats and vicious stereotypes about those with sub-par English language skills. Often, they also get judged for not forming a more diverse pool of nationalities.

After the MyMaster scandal in Australia where the government discovered mass cheating by students in 16 universities via the essay writing service, international students emerged in media reports as the likeliest group to pay someone else to ghostwrite assignments and sit online tests for them.

A recent report should put these inaccurate portrayals to rest.

Domestic students from non-English speaking backgrounds are just as likely as international students to engage in contract cheating – defined as paying a third party to undertake their assignments which they then pass off as their own. This is according to the findings of researchers from six universities led by Tracey Bretag and Rowena Harper from the University of South Australia.

Surveying 14,086 students and 1,147 staff, the aim of the Contract Cheating and Assessment Design project was to collect and understand students’ perceptions of the likelihood of cheating on 13 different assessment tasks. The research then asked teaching staff which of the 13 tasks they used.

The findings show no big surprises when it comes to the types of assignments most susceptible to contract cheating. Both students and teachers reported that assessments with short turnaround times and heavily weighted in the final mark were perceived as most susceptible.

On the other hand, in-class tasks, personalised and unique tasks, vivas (oral explanations of a written task) and reflections on practical placements were the least likely to attract contract cheats. There isn’t an assessment task completely immune to the attractions of contract cheating too, the survey found.

There are types of degrees that are perceived to be more likely to be vulnerable to cheating. These are business and commerce degrees, as well as the engineering subjects.

Speaking a language other than English at home was found to correlate for arranging for someone to assist with or complete an exam

Those dissatisfied with teaching quality were also more likely to think breaches of academic integrity were likely. Among the “cheating group”, the propensity to think acts like buying notes or taking exams in place of others as wrong are consistently lower.

The findings come in the wake of the Australian government’s announcement that it will crack down on essay mills. It is in the midst of drafting a new law to punish those providing or advertising commercial cheating services to higher education students.

“Contract cheating activity, if left unchecked, poses a significant threat to the integrity and reputation of Australia’s higher education sector both domestically and internationally,” the government wrote in a statement on its Department of Education and Training’s website.

The law would apply whether those services are delivered from within Australia or overseas, according to its response to a report from the Higher Education Standards Panel.

The legislation would involve a national law, relying on federal powers with respect to communications, corporations, trade and commerce, territories, and “aliens,” to be supported by supplementary laws and regulations enacted through states and territories to cover any regulatory gaps that arise.

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