September 2019

Something known previously by a select few is getting serious attention of late - Kenya is a big player in the contract cheating industry. While certainly not all contract cheating providers reside in Kenya, there are signs that a great many of them do. Why? According to some sources, the country is rich with highly educated people who have few available employment opportunities

It is easy to neutralize our cheating when what is at stake are basic human needs of physiology and safety (think Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs). The contract cheating providers in Kenya often talk about how they have no choice - they need an income, there is demand for contract cheating, and they can provide the supply. We bemoan their immorality, but in fact, this type of ethical dilemma is so common that it has a name - the Heinz dilemma. Indeed, how do we ask people to choose honesty over shelter, responsibility over safety, or fairness over food? 

To be sure, one could argue that people always have choices. They could find another job, perhaps. With a lot of effort and perhaps years of waiting, they could emigrate from Kenya to a country where there are jobs. They could provide legitimate educational support services. But let’s be honest - the real demand is for custom written essays, not for legitimate educational support (typically offered by the higher education institutions themselves).

So, there are really two questions - how do we curb demand for custom assignments and how do we reduce/eliminate the supply? To answer the curbing demand question, the focus needs to be on the educational institutions themselves. Should we offer legitimate 24/7 educational support services to our students so they are in less need of these other services? Can we better design our assignments so contract cheating is less possible and/or likely? Should we detect contract cheating and issue consequences so students realize that there are consequences and the option becomes less attractive? 

The answer to all of the previous questions is probably “yes and”. In other words, there is likely no one-size-fits-all response.

But are there other ways we can decrease supply while we are working on decreasing demand? Some of us have argued that we should make the contract cheating industry illegal. In that debate, we have acknowledged that it is difficult to establish the laws when the businesses operate internationally. When a company exists in Kenya, but sells custom assignments to students in countries like Australia, Britain, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and the United States, how do we stop them?

To stop the burgeoning industry in Kenya, it seems obvious that cooperation from Kenyan authorities would be necessary. However, so far, it seems that such cooperation has been non-existent, despite an apparent promise issued a couple of years ago that the Kenyan authorities would “crack down on essay writers”

Here’s a bold proposition to the countries being damaged by contract cheating - threaten to withhold aid to Kenya until Kenyan authorities do something about the contract cheating industry that is thriving under a lack of regulations and laws.

I am no foreign aid expert, and I know that it is complicated, but I also understand that sometimes only money talks. So, how much money are we talking about here? In 2017, the United States gave over $1 billion in aid to Kenya. In 2016, the UK gave Kenya about 134 million pounds. In 2018, Canada gave $83.4 million in aid to Kenya

Withholding aid may not be the most ethical solution, but if any government leaders are serious about tackling the supply side of the industry, they have got to start thinking about ways to bring the “supply countries” to the table to sit and discuss with the “demand countries”. We can’t realistically tackle this problem otherwise.

In this week’s blog post, I want to highlight a worthy opinion published in the Gulf News by Dr. Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi

Dr. Al-Suwaidi is a Nobel Prize nominated intellectual leader based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) whose most recent opinion piece lamented the problem of fake degrees in the Gulf region. Dr. Al-Swaidi accurately notes that the proliferation of fake degrees “reflects a serious moral crisis” created, in part, by the obsession that a degree (rather than experience and competency) is considered the only pathway to personal and professional successes. The good doctor ends his opinion piece with a call for others to join him in a “campaign against this epidemic”.  

I have stated before in my writings on contract cheating that if it is left unaddressed, it has the potential to turn all of our otherwise legitimate educational institutions into diploma mills. In other words, those of us in accredited institutions will be the ones issuing the fake degrees that Dr. Al-Swaidi warns us against. So, the issue of fake degrees is related to contract cheating - in fact, one could argue that securing a fake degree is the climax of contract cheating. So we must not fool ourselves - while Dr. Al-Swaidi is talking about the extent of the problem in the Gulf region, we have heard in the news about the prevalence of the disease across multiple regions throughout the world including in India, Kenya, LebanonMalaysia, Ukraine, and the United States of America. So, this is not a “cultural”, regional, or otherwise isolated problem. This is a problem with the over commercialization of higher education where the grades and degrees have gained more value than the underlying education, skills and knowledge they were invented to represent.

I hear Dr. Al-Swaidi’s call for a “campaign against this epidemic” and I repeat that call for others to join in. A good place to start is our 4th International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating this October 16th, 2019. Please join us.