Crackdown on third-level cheating and use of paid for essays

Ryan Carrick

The body responsible for policing standards in higher-level education has launched a network to help agree on common ways to identify and prosecute cheating.

Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) launched the National Academic Integrity Network on Thursday 14 November in response to the growing trend of students using online “essay mills” and paying for bespoke assignments, essays and, sometimes, theses which it says is a threat to the integrity of Irish higher education.

According to an article from QQI companies advertising these services claim their products are “plagiarism-free” as they are original pieces of work and reassure students that they do not breach plagiarism restrictions. Risk of detection is lower as such products are very difficult to detect by plagiarism software used by most higher education institutions.

A new provision was added to the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Act 2018. Section 43a provides QQI with statutory powers to prosecute those who complete work for a student which is required for their programme of study and those who advertise cheating services. 

The subsequent network aims “to represent public and private higher education providers, and learner representatives to agree common definitions of academic cheating, identify good practice in dealing with cheating and develop methodologies for the reporting and prosecuting of instances of cheating.”

Jessica Ryan, a Multimedia student, said cheating in higher-level education discredits the work of colleagues.

“You’re just playing yourself in the long run,” she said. “It’s not fair on everyone else in your year if you get good grades and a good job and you don’t actually have the skills or knowledge.”

QQI heard from experts in the area of contract cheating such as Prof Michael Draper of Swansea University who published a report on the sharp rise in essay mills. Draper found that as many as 1 in 7 students may have previously had someone complete an assignment for them, potentially representing 31 million students globally.

By 2017, there had been over 1000 cases of plagiarism in colleges in Ireland, according to figures compiled by the Irish Times. Real numbers are estimated to be much higher as UCC, UCD and Maynooth did not provide figures. 

Staff and academics in DCU previously warned students not to avail of services such as these when posters advertising assignments for money were posted across the campuses in November 2016.

Ryan Carrick

Image credit: Sonja Tutty