First blood for Australian contract cheating law

Court orders telecommunication companies to take ‘assignment help’ service offline

October 8, 2021
University students passing note in test, cheating the exam
Source: iStock

Australia’s higher education regulator has won a court injunction against a foreign essay mill, in the first exercise of a 2020 law that prohibits contract cheating services.

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (Teqsa) has obtained a Federal Court order requiring telecommunications companies to block access to the website “assignmenthelp4you.com” and its apparent alter ego, “assignmenthelp2u.com”.

Screenshots taken in April and May from assignmenthelp4you.com, thought to be operated from India, reveal that it advertised services to students from at least 10 Australian universities. “Find Best Academic Writers for Hire! Get Classroom Assignment Writing Service Acquire world’s best online assignment writing service at cheaper rate!” one message urged.

“Completely original and authentic papers…Timely assignment delivery” promised another. “If a student…cannot give much to complete their assignments, therefore, students hire a professional essay writer to ease their academic stress.”

Court documents reveal offers to specifically help students undertaking courses in fundamentals of finance and accounting for management decisions at a Victorian university, and tax law and corporate financial management at a Sydney private college.

The website was taken offline after a government solicitor emailed its operators in June, with visitors redirected to an advertisement claiming the domain name was for sale. Meanwhile, the assignmenthelp2u.com website sprang up, offering apparently identical services.

The court injunction, which applies for five years, is binding on several dozen internet service providers operating in Australia. It requires them to block access to the domain names, internet protocol (IP) addresses or uniform resource locators (URLs) of the two websites and redirect visitors to a Teqsa web page explaining why the service has been taken offline.

Service providers have three weeks to comply. The injunction also authorises Teqsa to take action if the website starts operating with a different domain name, IP address or URL.

Times Higher Education sought comment from the website operators, who had not responded at the time of publication.

The regulator said it was the first time it had taken action of this kind under a 2020 amendment to its legislation. “Teqsa selected this website because we believed we were able to demonstrate its operators were in breach of Australian law,” chief executive Alistair Maclean said.

“This decision supports Teqsa’s ongoing work to reduce the risk posed by commercial academic cheating services to student interests and the reputation and standing of Australian higher education.”

The regulator revealed in May that it had identified a test case to trial its newfound powers. It said at the time that the case would be submitted to the Federal Court “to test the legislation and inform our subsequent approach”.

Some academic integrity specialists have expressed scepticism about laws against essay mills, partly because there have been very few prosecutions. Other experts believe laws are essential because contract cheating is extremely pervasive.

England’s Department for Education this week announced that it would seek to criminalise essay mills, in a victory for politicians and administrators who have been campaigning for such action for years.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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