Public Release: 

A new law to tackle contract cheating and essay mills?

Swansea University

The academics propose that the new law should be applicable in many countries around the world and is described in a study "A legal approach to tackling contract cheating? " co-authored by Michael Draper, an Associate Professor in the College of Law and Professor Phil Newton from the Swansea University Medical School, an expert in contract cheating ,which has been published by the International Journal for Educational Integrity.

The explosion of so-called "contract cheating" services has created a headache for policymakers around the world. Current laws were not designed to address the 21st century nature of the problem, and a proposal to incorporate existing laws from New Zealand into UK law failed earlier this year after the government indicated it would not be effective and may inadvertently target companies providing legitimate study guidance.

Earlier research from the same academics also showed that contract cheating services protect themselves by using terms and conditions that keep the risk of 'intent' to cheat with the student, despite those services offering to write assignments to exact specifications. The newly proposed law addresses these limitations, using the principle of 'strict liability', which places the 'intent' onto the providers of the services. Similar principles are used in cases like car insurance, where intent is irrelevant and violators are prosecuted for being uninsured even if they simply forgot to renew.

The authors also propose an updated definition of contract cheating*, to counteract legal loopholes that might otherwise be exploited by essay mills and other contract cheating services.

Speaking on the principle of strict liability, Mr Draper explained; " The public interest in the integrity of University awards demands that law enforcers should be able to insist that those that provide such services are automatically liable unless they positively demonstrate that they have taken all necessary steps to ensure students do not submit essays as their own, rather than the prosecution having to establish liability on the part of the contract cheating service"

Both Newton and Draper are also co-authors of recent QAA guidance document on contract cheating which recommended that universities implement a broad range of measures to address the problem of contract cheating, including measures to address the education of educators around academic integrity and contract cheating, which is currently lacking, and steps to ensure that students understand contract cheating and how to avoid it.

Professor Newton (@newtonsneurosci) explained: " A holistic approach is required to promote Academic Integrity and address the ease with which contract cheating providers can exploit the current Higher Education system. Education of staff and students, improved assessment design and legal/regulatory approaches, including this new law, are the pillars upon which a holistic approach can be built."

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The QAA guidance document for universities 'Contracting to Cheat in Higher Education - How to Address Contract Cheating, the Use of Third-Party Services and Essay Mills" can be found here; http://www.qaa.ac.uk/publications/information-and-guidance/publication?PubID=3200

Notes

  • * 'Contract cheating' is defined by the authors as "a basic relationship between three actors; a student, their university, and a third party who completes assessments for the former to be submitted to the latter, but whose input is not permitted. 'Completes' in this case means that the third party makes a contribution to the work of the student, such that there is reasonable doubt as to whose work the assessment represents"

  • For more information about the Swansea University College of Law and Criminology go to http://www.swansea.ac.uk/law/

  • Swansea University Medical School is a UK top-ten Medical School offering a comprehensive portfolio of undergraduate and postgraduate courses spanning medicine, physician associate studies, health and life sciences to meet tomorrow's science and healthcare challenges. Since its beginnings as a newly established Medical School in 2004, it has seen exceptional development from the growth of its Graduate Entry Medicine (GEM) programme to building Wales' premier health and life sciences research facilities in the Institute of Life Science (ILS), Centre for NanoHealth and Data Science Building.

2014 saw the Research Excellence Framework place Swansea University Medical School equal first in the UK for the quality of its research environment and second for overall research quality. In 2016, it became the first department in Swansea University to win Athena SWAN Silver recognition for its work to promote women in science careers. These developments together with significant investment from external funding organisations have led to the Medical School rising to third in the UK in the Complete University Guide 2018 and UK top ten rankings in a range of other independent guides.

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