In an article in today’s Sunday Star Times, Martin van Beyen, Francesca Lee and Adam Dudding, produce evidence that there is an organised business of assessment cheating, through providing students with assignments for their tertiary education courses. Their headlines put the focus on the nationality/ethnicity of the business owner/managers and the students: “Chinese.”
But ultimately, the blame for such rorts lies with the neoliberalisation of universities. This is what happens when universities become more about income generation, competition for qualifications for scarce well-paying jobs, and valuing these things over seriously engaging with education for diverse realms of life. Universities should be engaged in furthering knowledge and understanding for the benefit of society at large, and to provide the means to critically engage with such knowledge, and understanding, as well as the means to critically examine all aspects of our society.
Some significant parts of the article:
A Sunday Star-Times investigation has uncovered a well-organised commercial cheating service for Chinese-speaking students in New Zealand.
The long-standing business uses a network of tutors, some outside New Zealand, to write original assignments ordered by Chinese-speaking students attending New Zealand universities, polytechnics and private institutions.
The tutors are paid by assignment and have specialist subjects.
The assignments seen by the Star-Times go up to masters level but the service claims to have tutors up to doctorate level….
The Star-Times, using the name of a fictitious Chinese student, successfully ordered an essay for a first-year university course subject from the company, which markets itself under a Chinese-language website called Assignment4U and is run from a unit at 88 Cook St, Central Auckland.
The signage in the office says Ateama Ltd in large, bold letters. The company also offers tutoring, counselling, help and academic “solutions” for overseas students.
A ghost writer, who wrote assignments for Assignment4U in 2007, told the Star-Times about completing assignments for students who were enrolled at Auckland University, Massey University, Auckland University of Technology and AIS St Helens (a private tertiary education provider)….
Most education institutions have introduced systems to detect plagiarism but it is still very difficult to check if an assignment is the student’s work….
“It would take a colossal amount of looking the other way by the complete legion of tutors, lecturers, course facilitators and teaching assistants to let pass such well-constructed essays and such exquisitely prepared assessments submitted by those whose written and spoken English skills are far from polished.”
Safeguards such as plagiarism buster turnitin.com did not detect a well-prepared, well-researched, ghost-written, electronic-based assignment, he said.
“New Zealand, of all the Western nations, is now widely known in the Chinese community as the easiest way to get a bachelor’s or master’s degree,” he said.
Having taught in NZ universities, I don’t believe that university tutors, lecturers and departments are deliberately “looking the other way”. It IS very difficult to get evidence of students turning in work they haven’t produced themselves. Any academic course team or individual staff member, cannot accuse a student of doing that, without good evidence.
This is why, in spite of the fact that assignments done honestly by students are the best means of learning, I favour using exams for some of every, or most, course assessments. It can expose when students language and/or academic skills in an exam are at odds with those in assignments they’ve turned in. If this is evident, lecturers can then call up a student and test them verbally on the course/assignment content. They can put to the student that there is a discrepancy in their course assessments.
However, beyond that, it is difficult to get sound evidence of students rorting the system. The best way to combat such widely orchestrated rorts, is to return the universities to the focus on education, and not treat them as a commercial enterprise, or solely as
job training obstacle-course institutions, for selecting people for work. Overseas students are now valued more for the fees they pay, than for their contributions to the broader educational endeavour: something crucial to the democratic functioning of our society.