International Students targeted for ghost ‘essay writing’ services

Melbourne, April 17: The University of Melbourne is in the midst of trialling a new system to help stamp-out instances of contract cheating.

The trial focuses on Cadmus, an online editing and authentication system designed and developed within the University, in collaboration with alumni of the University, who have been working in the project as part of the University’s Melbourne Accelerator Program

The system works by requiring students to authenticate and login using a free mobile app, before logging into the web-based system, allowing the institution to verify the identity of the individual using the system, similar to mobile banking authentication.

The system uses advanced analytics, such as typing latency and style, to ensure the student is and always remains the author of the written work that is being completed.

And while authoring their assignment, Cadmus also provides educative prompts based on the written text input it receives: for example, Cadmus is able to detect unoriginal work and suggest that an appropriate citation is provide, while linking to University guides on how to do this appropriately.

This trial comes about after en-masse academic cheating came to light, last year.

As lecturers and tutors grappled with the tide; commercial providers continued to profit from students – especially international students.

With declining Federal Government funding, Universities tapped heavily into the international market – for full fee-paying overseas students.

And to ensure that the flow continued, many institutions have had sufficiently lax checking measures – leading to a number of international students with very low proficiency in English and other academic requirements.

This eventually would not allow then to successfully undertake a degree course in Australia.

Thus evolved a scenario – where international students tapped into a black-market of having their projects completed online – for a fee.

Plagiarism and corruption of some academics also then came to light.

An experienced lecturer told Four Corners in 2015, that “failure to maintain standards in the course she teaches means graduates could put lives in danger when they begin working” in Australia.

First reported sometime in 2012, these services were easily accessible and targeted at international students willing to fork out large sums of money to have their assignments completed on their behalf.

According to Fairfax, more than $97,000 was paid in 2014 by international students for ‘essay writing services’.

  • Low English proficiency
  • Working over-time to pay bills and college fees, thus leaving no time to study

are two of the most common reasons cited, for international students to cheat.

“The extent of intentional cheating through ‘ghost writing’ or ‘contracted essays’ is largely unknown and unknowable. But we do know that services exist to provide contracted assignments to students and this is a growing industry”, Pro-Vice Chancellor (Academic) Professor Richard James said.Richard James

The University of Melbourne believes it has come up with a robust way to deter would-be cheats.

“Our challenge as a University community is to provide an environment that not only discourages cheating, but also provides guidance and support on high quality academic practices for students at all levels of study,” continued Professor James.

Manager of the University of Melbourne’s Academic Skills and Registar Department, Guido Ernstg had urged struggling international students to seek help from their university’s academic support services.

“Students can attend our workshops featuring a number of topics about writing in English, exam preparation, time management and many more,” Mr Ernst had said.

Students at the University of Melbourne can also access programmes run by students for students, including Language Exchange club activities where students can practice English with native speakers.

“There is no silver bullet for preventing or eliminating cheating.

“However, the Cadmus trial is showing us there is a potential for the University to add a barrier to cheating for important written assessment tasks, thus increasing the degree of difficulty for those who want try.”

“And while the vast majority of our students understand and follow principles associated with academic integrity, the University and the entire sector cannot ignore the minority of students within our community who depict someone else’s work as their own.

We hope Cadmus is another tool we can use to enforce these principals and uphold academic integrity,” concluded Professor James.

The system has so far been trialled with more than 300 students in two faculties between the end of semester 2015 and the 2015-16-summer semester. More trials are continuing throughout this year.

Shalini Singh

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