Huge Fines, Prison For University 'Contract Cheating' Services
The federal government is cracking down on cheating in Australian universities, but there are concerns innocent students could be caught up.
New legislation has been drafted making it an offence to provide a cheating service to university students in Australia.
Under the proposed changes, businesses caught making changes to an assignment could be slapped with a $210,000 fine or a two-year prison sentence.
The Morrison government is targeting so-called "contract cheating" services which allow students to pay an upfront fee in exchange for someone else to complete an assignment or sit an exam.
"Contract cheating undermines the integrity of our higher education system," Education Minister Dan Tehan said in a statement to 10 daily on Tuesday.
"It rewards people who pay others to do their work and punishes students who do the right thing".
Contract cheating is on the rise, with tens of thousands of students caught using the service last year.
“A 2018 survey of 14,000 Australia students at eight Australian universities reported 840 who admitted to using a contract cheating service," Tehan said.
Nick, a PhD student at the University of Wollongong, said the idea of paying someone to do your work seemed "fundamentally wrong" and unfair to students who put the work in.
"The closest analogy I can think of is it's like taking steroids in an Olympic sport," he told 10 daily.
"But its not even that, you're not even competing with anyone else, and someone else is running the race for you."
Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson supported the legislation and said it sent a “powerful signal” to deter commercial operators from trying to sell such services.
“Australia’s universities utterly condemn contract cheating," she said in a statement.
"We absolutely support the intention of the Government and Education Minister Dan Tehan to tackle commercial cheating services.”
But Jackson has stressed the importance of getting the legislation right before it goes to parliament later this year.
She's concerned it could affect students who have simply sought help from friends or family.
"We would not want someone’s Mum who proofreads an essay and suggests an addition to be inadvertently captured by these laws,” she said.
It's a sentiment that has been echoed by National Union of Students president Desiree Cai.
She explained that while the union was in support of the legislation, there is the risk that innocent students could get caught up.
“As long as it isn’t so broad that it affects friends helping out classmates or family members giving students a hand," she told 10 daily.
She has called for more support in universities around the country to stop the most vulnerable, who feel that they have no other choice, from cheating.
"It’s vital that there is heavy investment in support like counselling and other academic support," Cai said.
"In some cases, there are students waiting up to two weeks to get the help they need through their university and if this student is vulnerable, they could fall into that trap.”
The education minister explained the bill, which he expects to introduce to parliament later this year, will give the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency more power to seek Federal Court injunctions to have Internet Service Providers block access to websites promoting such assignment services.
“Any academic support or other assistance that is authorised by institutions either in policy or for a particular activity -- including for example peer support or scribing assistance to a person with disability -- is explicitly exempted in the legislation," Tehan said.
The move comes after a number of scandals that have rocked the education system in Australia.
In 2015, up to 1000 students from 16 different universities were caught up in a scandal that involved them paying the MyMaster essay writing service to ghostwrite assignments and sit online tests.
The website was marketed to international students studying in Australia.