For the last decade it seems, employers, most unknowingly, have not been able to take for granted that a degree, even from the most highly ranked universities, ensures that the holder of that degree actually studied and passed the courses indicated by the degree.
When a university graduate is employed, an employer should reasonably expect that the graduate will be able to evidence and exercise the attributes of the degree attained.
Whilst forgeries of testamurs and having other people sit examinations are century old problems, the advent of online learning including the electronic submission of assignments now seen at most traditional campuses, has created a multi-million-dollar cheating industry.
Higher education regulators around the world are aware of this threat. This is a threat not only to institutions and potential employers of graduates, but to the very essence of education. This is not a problem unique to Universities, we see these transgressions across all levels of academia be it, schools, colleges or professional organisations, most of which use online examinations and/or electronic assignment submissions.
If one can buy a degree or qualification by using proxies to undertake assignments and examinations, the true value of educational qualifications is eroded as well as the integrity of the institution awarding the degree.
Do we want engineers of our bridges and buildings, our medical professionals, our pilots, our technicians, etc. to have someone else undertake their assignments and exams?
Online cheating sites allow students to purchase and then submit original assignments, often written by academics or graduate students to earn additional income.
For those unaware of the thousands of sites available one only needs to Google “assignment writing services” to see the many sites available. Some governments, including Australia, have passed legislation banning the use of these sites; however, some with com.au addresses still exist in spite of the legislation.
Many of these sites are very sophisticated, including services which include money back guarantees when a pass mark is not achieved. Some cheating sites also offer distinctions and high distinctions for a higher payment. PhD theses are also available for the cost of some USD 35,000.
Universities worldwide have and continue to expend significant resources to assure academic integrity aimed at stopping contract cheating and examination fraud. However, without any fool proof solutions the results are questionable.
The move to more online education activities because of the coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. On the positive side over the past decade software has significantly helped curtail plagiarism and, henceforth, promote a deeper understanding of academic integrity amongst students and faculty.
It is difficult to estimate the number of students who use contract cheating services but based on reports from across the globe the number would be at least 10 per cent. The scant evidence to hand shows that domestic students are as likely to use cheating services as foreign students. If these 10 per cent of students were expelled for cheating the already precarious financial position of some institutions would become untenable.