Contract Cheating and Academic Integrity in Higher Education: What can Universities, Governments and Quality Assurance Agencies do to Understand, Prevent and Respond to the Challenge?

Dr. Myra E. J. B. Williamson
BA – LLB Hons – LLM Hons – PhD


There is a global challenge to higher education posed by “contract cheating”. “Contract cheating” occurs when a student contracts a third party to create an assignment for them, and then the student submits it as their own work. Usually money changes hands, but not always. This particularly insidious form of cheating has been exacerbated by the commodification of higher education and the increasingly popular “sharing economy”.
Contract cheating not only threatens the academic integrity of the individual student’s grades and their degree, it also raises suspicion about all the degrees awarded by an institution. Globally, universities have been struggling to combat contract cheating. This paper defines and describes the problem and then summarizes the findings of recent research and offers a comprehensive set of solutions.
New Zealand was one of the first countries to criminalize contract cheating. A legal approach is a solution which every country needs to consider because it directly targets the commercial entities creating the product. A pedagogical approach requires universities to be proactive and there are many things which universities can do to manage the problem. A quality assurance approach can involve national quality assurance agencies working with government departments and tertiary education providers to conduct research and provide guidance to all universities. All three approaches are discussed here.
This paper draws on recent research produced by accreditation agencies, individual researchers, and university organizations. It refers to contract cheating research in selected countries-especially New Zealand, Australia and the UK-to counteract contract cheating. The solutions proposed here will be of interest to all universities, quality assurance agencies and governments because contract cheating is a global problem which challenges the academic integrity of every higher education institution.

Keywords: Contract cheating; Student cheating; Outsourcing of assessment; Academic integrity; Essay mills; Teaching and learning practices; Curriculum design.

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