re-designing assessment); and be aligned to institutional policy for managing student academic misconduct, which is informed by recommendations or evidence-informed frameworks for implementing policy (e.g.
Bretag & Mahmud, ), there is a need for higher education institutions to ensure a ‘systemic approach’, in which academic integrity is integral to the wide range of institutional activity and processes, including: student recruitment, orientation and induction; policy and procedures; teaching and learning practices; working with students; the professional development of staff; and the use of technology (e.g. It is essential that in-depth consideration is given by institutions as to how they can integrate and augment their institutional strategy or approach with regard to all forms of student academic misconduct, including the outsourcing of assessment to third parties.
This commentary paper examines the issue of contract cheating in higher education, drawing on research and current debate in the field of academic integrity.
Media coverage of this issue has reflected significant concerns in the field about students’ use of custom academic writing services, along with sector and national calls for action that would lead to making such essay mills illegal.
Empirical investigations have been vital for this area of academic integrity.
Significant concerns have been raised by national agencies for assuring standards in higher education about students’ use of third-party services for assessment purposes (Bretag et al., ) has drawn attention to the international concern that there are students who are making use of essay mills, and that such services were not immediately and readily seen as a serious issue for students by those outside of higher education (in which influencers on You Tube refer to, for example, ‘professional nerds’ or ‘a bunch of … Indeed, a government minister is cited on how such activity is ‘clearly wrong because it is enabling and normalising cheating potentially on an industrial scale’ (Jeffreys & Main, ).By drawing on recent work that has enhanced our understanding of the issue of contract cheating, higher education institutions can focus on continuing to develop institutional strategy for academic integrity.This paper identifies five considerations for universities and colleges that are particularly relevant to this endeavour, including how the issue of contract cheating can be addressed: determining academic integrity strategy; reviewing institutional policy; understanding students; re-visiting assessment practices; and implications for staff professional development.Under this tariff a ‘submission purchased from [an] essay mill or ghost-writing service’ can lead to one of a set of five penalties (which penalties to be applied is also dependent on factors, such as the student’s level of study) – two of which refer to expulsion from the institution (with credits retained or withdrawn).More recently in the UK, the QAA have stressed how contract cheating is essentially a ‘special case’ of student academic misconduct, which is: ‘an extremely serious matter because the deliberate, intentional decision of a student to engage a third party to complete work …This raises the question of how in higher education we might respond.Throughout higher education, it is crucial that academic integrity is promoted and re-asserted through international and national initiatives, and institutional policy and practice.For example, questions could be asked about how the institution’s teaching, learning and assessment strategy is connected to the academic integrity or student academic misconduct policy, or how visible and accessible this policy is for all stakeholders, including students and the range of staff roles.Morris and Carroll () have pointed to the need for stakeholders to appreciate that typically, there are no straightforward solutions in responding to academic integrity issues.Further, the implementation of a holistic approach must be applicable and responsive to the institutional context, with implementation entailing institutional resources to be committed and significant time for institutional change to be realised (Morris and Carroll, ).Therefore, an essential starting point for change is a review of existing institutional policy and procedures for academic integrity matters.