Australia introduces law against contract cheating services

Draft bill ‘clarified’ to prevent inadvertent targeting of family and friends

December 4, 2019
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Contract cheats preying on Australia’s university students will be liable to two years’ imprisonment and fines of up to A$105,000 (£55,000), under a bill brought before parliament on 4 December.

The federal government has proceeded with draft legislation unveiled earlier this year. “Cheating services are a blight on our education system,” said education minister Dan Tehan. “These are criminals exploiting vulnerable students and undermining the integrity of our degrees.”

The draft aroused concerns that students rather than commercial predators could be targeted, and that friends and family who provided students with innocent feedback could find themselves under fire. Mr Tehan said that the government had taken these worries into account.

“After consulting with the sector, we have clarified the legislation to ensure parents and friends who might edit their child’s essay or provide suggestions on how to improve an assignment will not be impacted.

“This bill is aimed at commercial cheating services, not the students who use them,” he added. “Students who cheat will still be subject to their institutions’ academic integrity policies and sanctions, including any consequences that flow from those.”

If it passes parliament, the bill will empower the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) to investigate alleged contract cheating services – or support other agencies’ investigations – and refer offenders to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

TEQSA will also be able to seek injunctions forcing internet providers and search engines to block access to websites promoting cheating services. The regulator, which has been allocated an extra A$660,000 a year to cover this work, will also be allowed to share information about academic cheating services with institutions and overseas authorities.

Discussing the issue at TEQSA’s Melbourne conference last week, the agency’s chief executive Anthony McClaran said contract cheating was a problem “which affects all higher education systems. [The response] should include intelligence shared between the regulator and providers and by regulators across national boundaries.”

Australia’s bill draws on experience from New Zealand, which was the first country in the world to enact a law specifically targeting contract cheating services. Ireland passed similar legislation in July.

The Australian government has also introduced a bill to extend the “unique student identifier”, currently used in the vocational education and training sector, to higher education students. Supporters say that the move will significantly improve higher education statistics.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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