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The neoliberalisation of Universities

Written By: - Date published: 8:08 am, May 12th, 2013 - 42 comments
Categories: democracy under attack, employment, exports, privatisation, tertiary education - Tags:

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.

democracy and education

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.

Education for democracy

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.


42 comments on “The neoliberalisation of Universities”

  1. Sosoo 1

    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.

    This is true. There are a couple of wrinkles. The first is that cheating is worse in online distance courses. We have good reason to think that hired guns in China are completing some of the assessments for our students, but we have no way to prove it.

    The other problem is that the current method of choice for plagiarists is to use foreign language sources and run them through Google translate (or do the same with English sources a few times). Software like Turnitin and Google searches can’t catch that.

    It is largely a problem with Chinese students. The only other source of cheats seems to be the Middle East, but it’s nowhere near as bad.

    While it’s fair to put some blame on the desire of universities to attract international students, that is not the major factor. The major factor is organised Chinese cheating. The Koreans and the Japanese don’t cheat more than anyone else.

    • just saying 1.1

      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.

      Probably that is largely true. But in some cases cheating does seem to be “facilitated”. I accidentally ended up in an ‘English for Health Sciences’ class with about 80% international students. The cheating was specatcular, and it struck me as odd that the paper had the greatest degree of internal assessment of any I took. For the most prestigious courses such as medicine and dentistry 75% in that class was the bare minimum for entry. I wondered how much those schools relied on fee-paying students. It did seem that many students who were probably top scholars in other subjects, were extremely weak at in-class work that didn’t count toward the final grade, and yet they consistently handed in A+ assignments. The exam was worth 25 percent.

      I noticed that a common form of borderline cheating amongst NZ students was a sort of ‘crowd sourcing’ amongst friends, especially for lab reports, but I’m not sure how “illegal” it was to work on individual assignments as a group.

      This was a few years ago and things may be different now.

      • Rogue Trooper 1.1.1

        Yep, just saying, and there has been many articles in the MSM about the academic un-preparedness of many domestic students entering University.


        Nope, things have not got any better.

      • karol 1.1.2

        That’s depressing, js.

        I noticed that a common form of borderline cheating amongst NZ students was a sort of ‘crowd sourcing’ amongst friends, especially for lab reports, but I’m not sure how “illegal” it was to work on individual assignments as a group.

        Well, working in groups on the preparation for an assignments can be a useful learning experience – trying out ideas, weighing up other people’s ideas, ete. It probably depends on the assignment, and how students work together as to whether it is a kind of cheating.

        However, markers often pick up on it when there is similarity between the work of 2 or more students for the same assignment. If the marker knows the students it’s easier to tell who is doing the heavy lifting. But, if the work is too similar, then they can be called up to explain.

        I’m not sure how that would work for science or maths work though, if there is only one answer that can be found for a set task.

        • Murray Olsen

          It’s very easy to design Physics questions so that they can’t be answered just with numbers, or even so there’s more than one correct answer. In fact, I’d say only a lazy lecturer would ask those sort of questions by the time you get to the 3rd year. At first year, where you might get 150 in a lecture stream, it can be hard to do anything else.

          Ironically enough, at one university I taught a first year Physics course for non-science students, disparagingly known as Physics for Morons. Basically, we had to teach stuff without any equations, so it mostly came down to broad concepts. I found it quite challenging because that’s not normally how we teach, and the students were actually interested. They were far from moronic and as far as I can remember, there was no problem with cheating. I can’t think of any other undergraduate course where I could say the same. I also put the blame squarely at the feet of the commercialisation of education. Students pay for an education but think they are paying for a degree. University administrations often seem to agree with them.

          • ghostrider888

            I did a paper like that as an adult student to make up course-load; really enjoyed it, obviously. :)

  2. kiwi_prometheus 2

    [lprent: deleted because you’re banned. Changing IP’s and emails is kind of pathetic. It isn’t like you haven’t had sufficient warnings. ]

    • Colonial Viper 2.1

      Chinese being “third worlders”? Lol it seems like the country desperate for their monies and willing to trade away its values is the beggar nation.

      • ghostrider888 2.1.1

        yep. University qualifications now are not worth the rice-paper (scissors, Rock) they are pictogrammmed on.

        “NEW ZEALAND ,OF ALL THE WESTERN NATIONS IS NOW WIDELY KNOWN BY THE CHINESE COMMUNITY AS THE EASIEST WAY TO GET A BACHELORS OR MASTERS DEGREE”; welcome to the primers, and anybody who thinks that ghostwriting is not public knowledge is in denial.

        There is no way this side of hades that I would part with another bean towards an academic education in New Zealand; hiding to nothing, that is what the country is on.

        Confucius, the master, said, “Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters?
        “Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application?”

        The philosopher Yu said, “The superior man bends his attention to what is radical. That being established, all practical courses naturally grow up. Filial piety and fraternal submission- are they not the rock of all benevolent actions?”

    • One Anonymous Knucklehead 2.2

      Looks like the witless dick-cheese has transferred his weird obsession from QoT to Karol. OK, Kiwi Prometheus, we get it: you’re a prick. Now give it a rest, eh?

  3. Alanz 3

    “.. 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.”

    Brilliant example of neoliberalism encouraging ‘outsourcing’.

  4. Matt 4

    “However, beyond that, it is difficult to get sound evidence of students rorting the system.”

    Sometimes the answer is the answer. If institutions are serious about thwarting organized cheating, then include on-site exams and require students to present and defend “their own” academic work.

    • Sosoo 4.1

      Universities can’t afford that. Online courses have caused a race to the bottom. If a student can’t get one at Auckland or Waikato, Massey or Vic will happily take their money.

      • Matt 4.1.1

        Well, another reason for my girls to not attend NZ universities.

        • Sosoo

          Don’t. Send them to Australia. Why bother with our substandard tertiary sector when you have quite a few world class institutions across the pond?

          • karol

            Actually, I think it’s wrong to assume that all students are getting a low quality education in NZ unis. There’s some excellent work being done by some staff and students, in spite of the less than favourable context/conditions.

            Unfortunately the cheats undermine the students doing honest and high quality work.

            There’s a big range of student performances: some excellent, and brilliant high quality work by a few. then there’s a long tail of low achievers, many just scrapping by, and learning little.

            • Draco T Bastard

              There’s world leading stuff going on in NZ universities but we mostly hear about the cheats.

  5. One Anonymous Knucklehead 5

    Neoliberalism was going to improve the quality of tertiary education. Since its introduction, however, NZ universities have slid down the global quality rankings.

    The experiment is a colossal failure on all fronts: economic failure, educational failure, environmental failure, social failure. Fail fail fail.

    New Zealand will not go forward until the last vestige of neo-liberalism is destroyed: its advocates shamed, its professors shown the door. The sooner the broad left (looking at you, Labour Party) fully accepts this the sooner things will improve. It’s that simple.

    It could be worse though: morons like KP could be running the show.

    • Draco T Bastard 5.1


      Except the bit about Labour, forget Labour – they’ve drunk the Kool Aid.

    • Murray Olsen 5.2

      Our universities have obviously slid down the rankings because of the deconstructed Marxist feminists still employed in Arts Departments. Market penetration has not been fully allowed, just like the presence of any banking regulations at all caused the GFC. No one who doesn’t contribute to WhaleSpew on a daily basis should be allowed to work at any university. We’d immediately see them at the top of the rankings. At least according to any polls Farrar might run.

  6. Tim 6

    Have a listen to this if you haven’t already:


    I’d be interested in people’s thoughts – if I may be so bold as to ask.

    FROM Sunday with Laidlaw (broadcast 14 April)
    Richard Hil has written about pressure on universities to make money and the effect that has on academics and teaching. He talks to Chris about the long-running industrial strife at Sydney University; the casualisation of the workforce at universities throughout Australia, which he calls an outrageous exploitation of labour; and the need for academic staff to stand up for their colleagues.
    Whackademia: An Insider’s Account of the Troubled University, by Richard Hil, is published by NewSouth Publishing.

    • Murray Olsen 6.1

      At the higher levels, faculty Dean and above, Australian universities are full of corporate neoliberal types. Very few of them have had distinguished academic careers. Their main aim is to make money and go up in the international rankings. The first is done by attracting international students and increasing staff workloads, along with an increasing casualisation of labour. The strategy for the second is to poach research superstars from other universities and throw millions at them.

      The level of unionisation is not generally high. As far as I’m concerned, only those who join the union should partake of the benefits.

  7. Draco T Bastard 7

    It IS very difficult to get evidence of students turning in work they haven’t produced themselves.

    There’s a way to ensure that it is – require that the students notes and work are done and maintained on the universities cloud system.

    • ghostrider888 7.1

      😀 ( and then a helpful sysops can don-load (sic) the file.

    • Matt Damon 7.2

      Matt Damon

    • Sosoo 7.3

      That doesn’t work. Students take online courses and submit their work from all over the world. Many Chinese students are in China when they take our courses. It’s tremendously easy to fake an IP address.

      Universities can’t really abandon online learning. They also can’t stop the attendant cheating.

      It’s a genuine dilemma.

    • QoT 7.4

      Oral presentations via Skype would be handy, but time-consuming.

      • Rhinocrates 7.4.1

        Well that’s the problem. Two thirds of my contract for one paper is devoted to marking, since we use what’s called “formative assessment”. This method means that the feedback along the way is regarded as helping learning, but it means that I. as a tutor, have to be paid to spend time marking drafts as well as completed assignments.

        As universities try to cut costs, if there’s going to be any formative assessment, then the “economical” trick is to get the students to assess each other, and in other papers I’ve been involved in, the university has been trialling such methods. It works quite well, I have to say, if a strong sense of community is fostered among them, though it’s very dependent upon circumstances, which bean-counters won’t be able to appreciate. For example, in vocational degrees such as architecture and design, that works, since the students are all working in parallel and form tight-knit communities, but in looser degrees, that will be a problem.

        As you say, QoT, assessment and tutoring would be time-consuming, and from the perspective of a university that employs tutors, markers and so on on a contract basis (as is increasingly the case), expensive.

      • karol 7.4.2

        Individual interactions on Skype would be useful. It’s the individual, face-to-face interactions that help staff to assess a student’s academic capabilities, interests etc. And enable them to discuss assignments while students are working on them, as well as seeing students doing oral presentations.

        But, again, it needs lower staff-student ratios.

    • karol 7.5

      I have taught on courses where students are reuqired to hand in their assignment notes. That creates as many problems as it solves. Students can still get their notes from someone else. And it just makes more qork for the markers.

      Part of the problem is academic staff are under a lot of pressure because of the need to increased class sizes as a result of the “bums on seats” approach to funding. This is particularly true of first and second year under-grad courses.

      The issues ease at the final undergrad level, and for post grad courses when the classes tend to be smaller. This means staff have more contact with each individual student. This helps with judging if students are turning in their own work,

      I see Joyce is jumping in blaming others. A=However, he is the last person to be providing remedies. Hids approach of “knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing” is the problem.

      There needs to be more attention to educational processes, rather than focusing on short term measurable outcomes – same as the national standards ethos in schools.

  8. andyS 8

    I spent a month teaching in China and cheating is endemic there, to the extent that the tutors encourage it.

  9. AmaKiwi 9

    The informant sent a registered copy of his letter to the IRD because he alleges massive tax fraud. I am waiting to see what shadow Revenue Minister, David Cunliffe, uncovers.

    If the IRD read the allegations, they should have been swarming all over this company 3 months ago.

  10. AmaKiwi 10

    A member of my family has just told me when she wanted to verify her overseas university degrees for the NZQA the first thing that popped up on a Google search was NOT the NZQA. It was a company that would get you verification of phoney qualifications . . . for a price.

    She says it was common knowledge that for $1,000 you could buy fraudulent qualifications which would be accepted by the NZQA.

  11. In my experience, the universities are quite open (internally at least) about international students = cash. The government caps the number of domestic enrolments it will fund, but international enrolments are uncapped and self-funding. They’ll all say it’s not in their interest to take students who can’t complete their degrees, but the fact is it’s in their interest to take people who’ll pay cash up front, regardless of what happens after the cash hits the bank account.

    That said, internationalisation is a good thing and any institution that tries to pretend otherwise is on a fast track to decline. This problem is an inevitable result of taking students from countries in which corruption is the norm (China, India and the Middle East being the main offenders in the NZ market). It can be managed, but NZers without experience in Third World countries tend to be naive about corruption on the basis that we’re really not that used to it. Basically, we have to stop being such easy marks if we want a better class of international student.

    • karol 11.1

      How about NZ education (university and in other sectors) is for the benefits of Kiwis and wider society, rather than trying to operate them as businesses? Education is a resource and common good, and not a sale-able (trade-able) product/service.

      • Draco T Bastard 11.1.1

        Yep, that was what I was thinking.

        • ghostrider888

          I despair, I really do; this from Pete Hodkinson, NZUSA president- “it’s disgusting this business takes advantage of stressed students”. wtf, where do we get these opinions from? crib notes? ffs!

      • Psycho Milt 11.1.2

        That would be nice, but neither of the big parties seems keen on the idea. National’s just a bit more focused than Labour when it comes to treating universities as some kind of SOEs.

  12. Binders full of viper- women 12

    the blame for such rorts lies with the … dishonest students (& inter web).

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