‘Shifting value proposition’ underpins rise in contract cheating

‘Renaissance’ ideals of integrity may mean little to the sharing economy generation, Australian conference hears

November 24, 2022
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The sharing economy has muddied the waters around the younger generation’s understanding of academic integrity, and universities’ “transactional monetary relationship with their students” has made things worse.

Grant Klinkum, chief executive of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, said a “variation of values” around issues like cheating was symptomatic of the “productisation” of higher education. “Assessments might increasingly be seen as…another product that can be just traded and shared,” he told the conference of Australia’s Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (Teqsa).

Dr Klinkum related a story about an educator’s son who had responded to a Facebook advertisement to complete another student’s assessment for a fee. Confronted by his “mystified” parents, the otherwise “upstanding” young man “really could not see what the problem was”.

“Some of our values, based on some Renaissance idea of the value and importance of intellectual endeavour and so on, may not be shared by increasing numbers of students,” Dr Klinkum told the conference. “This is not about immoral students. This is about varied values.”

University of Melbourne law professor Jeannie Paterson said the protagonist in the American legal drama Suits was a “hero” to her students because he sat the law school admission test for other people. “He’s kind of an underdog making good and helping other underdogs.”

She said a “hero exam taker” could be considered “appropriate” in a sector marked by its “very transactional monetary relationship” with students. “It’s a transaction. It’s leading to a job. This is the way to get it done.”

Professor Paterson said universities faced a challenge championing values that students deemed irrelevant “to what they’re going to experience in the open world”. For example, her students struggled to understand the collusion policy barring them from talking with each other about their assignments.

“They will say, ‘This is not relevant to the way I experience the world. I’m constantly on social media with my peers and colleagues, interacting and collaborating.’ We need to understand the perspective of the students, not just the values that we may think are self-evident.”

Helen Gniel, director of Teqsa’s Higher Education Integrity Unit, said universities needed to work harder to stem demand for contract cheating services. “Institutions aren’t consistently…doing the hard conversations with the students – catching them close to when they’ve committed the offence, and having what should initially be an educative conversation,” she said.

“Students are allowed to make mistakes, but unless we’re catching them and educating them, they won’t necessarily recognise that it was a mistake. And those will become entrenched behaviours.”

Mairéad Boland, head of academic integrity regulation at Quality and Qualifications Ireland, said contract cheating companies were targeting students on social media. “That’s right across the breadth of platforms – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok. Awareness-raising and education is really important so that students are aware of the dangers of engaging with these bad actors.”

Professor Paterson said students were being targeted when they were most “vulnerable” – in their bedrooms late at night, as they struggled with assignments. “Who’s in touch with them? Not the university, but social media and the chat group and the Whirlpool forum or the Snapchat discussion group,” she said.

“If we want to understand the triggers…we really need to look at social media. [Students’] relationships on social media are probably closer than the relationships with the university. That’s not about the university; that’s about social media.”

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

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