In the News: What You May Have Missed
If you do not have google alerts set up to send you pieces on academic misconduct, academic cheating or academic integrity, you might have missed the latest news on the contract cheating front. Legislation being drafted in Australia is set to criminalize the business of contract cheating providers – those people and companies set up to provide students with a way out of doing their own work in college. (I and others have talked about contract cheating several times in this blog, so I won’t get into the nitty-gritty details of contract cheating here. But I do invite you to go back through the blog to see any posts you might have missed.)
In theory, this sounds like a great idea. In fact, I have been advocating for making contract cheating providers illegal for a while and ICAI’s International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating is focused on educating students and making politicians aware of the need to combat this unscrupulous and unhelpful industry. To be sure, what is legal isn’t always ethical, but it seems right to put our values behind our actions and to call out and ostracize contract cheating providers so that our students (and parents) know that this is not the strategy they should use when they are struggling with academic work or competing for the top grades or top prizes in education. So, I am a big supporter of any legislation that tackles this issue, as I am a big supporter of any university that is working to combat contract cheating in other ways like improving instruction, adapting assessments to the twenty-first century, and prioritizing quality teaching and learning above profits and graduation rates.
However, the worry in Australia over this proposed legislation is that parents, friends and legitimate tutors may get “caught up” in the law. You can see an overview of the draft bill here, and the section of particular concer reads as follows: the “Proposed new section 114A of the TEQSA Act would make it an offence to provide academic cheating services, where the assignment, work or examination is a required part of a course of study. Cheating services include: completing an assignment or other work for a student; providing any part of a piece of work or assignment; providing answers for an examination; [and] sitting an examination.” The alarm bells are ringing over the phrase “providing any part of a piece of work or assignment” – will that mean that a writing center tutor in a university would be criminally liable if they help a student as they do now? What if a parent or friend proof-reads a paper and makes suggestions for rewording or incorporating new material? These are valid questions, but at the same time we know from the contract cheating research being conducted in Australia that friends and family members are very common sources of contract cheating providers, so excluding them from the legislation doesn’t seem ethical or logical.
I think the alarm bells might be a bit premature and perhaps, well, alarmist. Do people really think that the government would go after a tutor employed by a university if they were providing services as trained to provide by the university? Or a parent who merely made proof-reading type suggestions? I don’t think they would, but I guess it depends on who is in charge. What I like about this legislation is that it seems it would also cover the “editors-for-hire” industry of which I have expressed concern.
What do you think? Should the draft legislation be re-written to exclude parents and friends from criminal liability? Should the legislation make contract cheating providing a civil rather than criminal offense? What would you propose as the key features of an anti-contract cheating legislation?