Inside uni students’ sneaky new cheating tactics
Lazy university students are forking out hundreds of dollars to assignment cheating companies, lured by the promise of "plagiarism-free" work.
The Saturday Herald Sun can reveal that universities are injecting resources to crack down on contract cheating, as data shows a rise in students at some institutions paying for assignments in the past year.
They are also warning that students face being blackmailed by the companies, who extort them for higher fees by threatening to dob them in for cheating.
More than 50 online companies and classifieds sites peddle promises of "plagiarism free" assignments and even "COVID support discounts" to guarantee top marks.
Posing undercover as a student, the Saturday Herald Sun found contract cheating companies used ruthless sales tactics, including pressuring students "not to miss out" on great assignment writing deals by bombarding them with dozens of emails. Most of the companies claim to be Australian, but when some were called an international dial tone was heard.
One website, which claims to be "Aussie owned" but had its address listed as being in New Delhi, promised "100 per cent original content with no plagiarism".
"Our writers start working on each project from scratch. There's no rewriting, paraphrasing, and plagiarising. Only legit research and unique content with proper references," the website said.
One assignment writing company quoted $244.02 for a nine-page assignment on Australian history, when contacted by the Saturday Herald Sun.
"We employ hundreds of writers in different subject areas such as history. Most of them hold at least PHD level and enjoy challenging assignments in their respective fields are ready to assist you now," worker "Belle" said.
When asked if the university would discover the rort, Belle replied: "Your information here is safe and will never be shared with anyone for any reason.
"Our trusted services have provided anonymous help to students in need for over 15 years. No one will ever find out that you have used our academic reference assistance."
A quote was then emailed within five minutes of passing on an email address, saying the company could also offer a "VIP package", which would include trusted and high-valued writers and editors. "Don't miss out on this great discount," the email said. "The VIP package is where you will get priority access for your calls and messages to be answered."
Online classifieds websites including Gumtree were also found to be swarming with assignment-writing services across Melbourne.
One ad said: "We are based in Melbourne and have been in the industry for over five years. We ensure quality, no plagiarism, reliability and efficiency."
Deakin University centre for research in assessment and digital learning Professor Phillip Dawson said markers were able to spot examples of cheating in 80 per cent of assignments bought by researchers.
"We've been able to train them to spot it about 80 per cent of the time, which makes it an incredibly risky thing to do," he said. "We've also looked at if these assignments pass when we give them to markers and most of the time they don't pass, it's not good quality work that you're buying."
Prof Dawson said sinister blackmailing tactics used by contract cheating companies could cost students their degrees.
"Research out of Curtin University shows students can be blackmailed by these sites. You think you've passed your task and everything's OK … but then the cheating site comes to you for money and threatens to tell your university," Prof Dawson said.
In a recent study conducted by Curtin University, almost 90 per cent of students claimed not to have been aware of the risk of blackmail.
The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency has found that contract cheating was a persistent problem with services becoming "increasing sophisticated". The agency can now apply for a court injunction to try to shut down academic cheating websites.
"Proven instances" of contract cheating at the Australian National University campuses nationwide jumped from 33 in 2019 to 46 in 2020. Deakin found 58 student had contract cheated, with 11 expelled and others receiving zero marks for their unit or assessment task.
In 2019, the most recent year for which figures were provided, Monash University ruled that 684 students had committed academic misconduct, including cheating and other offences.
ACU Provost Professor Belinda Tynan said one of the most common forms of cheating was where students put a request on to a "gig economy" site, such as Airtasker, requesting someone to write an assignment for them.
"The most common penalty imposed for Misrepresentation Category was an overall fail in the unit," Prof Tynan said. "Students are held accountable when they are caught. It can delay their results and prolong the time and cost to complete their degree."
Deakin University's Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Education Liz Johnson said the university was investing in new and innovative ways of monitoring and detecting cheats.
She said all students must complete compulsory modules on academic integrity.
University of Melbourne Student Union president Jack Buksh said unscrupulous contract cheating operations were a real concern for their members, especially those who were most vulnerable.
"At a broad level, international students are those most targeted by those (contract cheating) organisations," he said.
"But we find that most academic misconduct cases can be traced back to universities not letting students know clearly what is and what is not allowed.''
Originally published as Inside uni students' sneaky new cheating tactics