To help students understand when they may be breaking the rules and also to avoid getting scammed by “pay-to-pass” companies, the University of Calgary has developed a new web resource called “What you need to know about paying for academic support”. The resource highlights unscrupulous practices that these “pay-to-pass” (e.g. tutoring; file sharing) companies use to convince students to pay for their services and/or work for them. This post is focused on the behaviors students should look out for if they’re thinking about working for such companies:.

Example #1: Booking space on campus.

Students are permitted to book certain spaces on campus for the learning purposes, such as group work rooms. But students are not permitted to use their student ID to book rooms for a business purpose, such as interviewing fellow students for jobs.

Example #2: Requiring students to surrender academic materials at a job interview or as a condition of employment.

Some companies require student applicants to surrender copies of tests, midterms or other assessments during a job interview. They pitch this as a way for students to prove they are qualified to offer tutoring for a particular course, when it is just a pretext to acquire materials the company will later sell to other students. Sometimes students do not realize they are sharing material to which the instructor holds the copyright. By providing the materials to a third party who then sells them, they may be unknowingly facilitating a copyright violation. In other cases, the materials may be institutionally approved study materials offered for free to students as study tools and made available via the websites of an academic department. The companies offer the same materials for sale on their website, effectively tricking students into buying study tools already available to them for free.

Example #3: Unauthorized use of institutional e-mail addresses.

Companies require or encourage students to engage in unethical behaviour such as reaching out to their classmates to market the company’s services. This is particularly dangerous when student hired by these companies send out e-mail “blasts” to classmates using class lists contained within the institutional learning management system. The class lists are provided to students for the purposes of allowing them to connect with each other for the purposes of learning, such as setting up group work meetings. The university IT policy explicitly states that student e-mail addresses may be used to market to sell third-party services or products.

In any of the above cases, a student could be held responsible for violating the institutional code of conduct by contravening institutional policy, when it is really the company at fault for encouraging or requiring unethical behaviour as a condition of employment.

A secondary benefit of this resource is that it allows staff and faculty to engage students in pro-active conversations about how to protect themselves from being scammed by unethical companies. This is the first time the university has developed a resource such as this for students to help them navigate the complexities of working with (or for) pay-to-pass companies. Other universities can link to this resource to help their own students.