Australian regulator scrutinises Turnitin takeover of Ouriginal

Authorities probe competition implications, as plagiarism giant insists it needs scale to meet customer demands

七月 6, 2021
Source: iStock

Australia’s competition watchdog has joined its UK counterpart in probing plagiarism detection giant Turnitin’s plan to buy its last major competitor.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is assessing whether the California-based company’s acquisition of Stockholm-based rival Ouriginal will “substantially lessen competition”.

A questionnaire aimed at Turnitin’s customers and competitors investigates how “closely” the two companies compete and the difficulty other players face in entering the anti-plagiarism software market. Subscribers are asked where else they could obtain such services and how hard it would be to change suppliers.

The document seeks feedback on how price, quality and service levels might be affected if the merger proceeds. It also asks about the supply of related educational software, such as learning management systems, by plagiarism detection service providers.

Interested parties have until 19 July to respond. The ACCC has flagged an announcement of its findings on 9 September, when it will release either its final decision or a “statement of issues”.

The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority, which conducted a preliminary investigation into the proposed acquisition last month, is due to announce on 29 July whether it will pursue a follow-up inquiry. Times Higher Education understands that at least one other European regulator is considering a probe.

When Turnitin announced its intent to buy Ouriginal in March, it acknowledged that the proposal would be subject to regulatory approvals. The deal potentially faces scrutiny in all 140-plus countries where the company operates.

But it is familiar territory for Turnitin, which has bought five other edtech companies over the past three years. Its latest target, Ouriginal, was itself formed from the merger of two European text-matching services just 10 months ago.

Turnitin says it needs to grow to meet customers’ demands for “bundled solutions” that incorporate academic integrity features in broader suites of assessment, learning management and online teaching tools.

Valerie Schreiner, the company’s US-based chief product and marketing officer, said Turnitin also faced competition as technology giants’ services converged. Companies such as Microsoft and Google were “aggressively pursuing the education sector” by developing “learning management system-like sets of capabilities”, while providers such as Blackboard and Canvas have boosted their essay grading capabilities.

Speaking before the UK and Australian regulators announced their investigations, Ms Schreiner said the academic integrity landscape was “evolving” and “stand-alone plagiarism prevention” was “largely going away” as essay mills became more technologically sophisticated. “You need…a large enough technology team that can invest in artificial intelligence,” she said.

Ms Schreiner said she had come to that realisation as chief executive of Indianapolis-based plagiarism checker VeriCite, which Turnitin snapped up in 2018. “The things that my customers were bringing to me were…things I wasn’t going to be able to solve for them. I needed an AI team, and there was no way I could get to that scale without joining a larger organisation.”



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