The IRU has responded to the Government’s Draft Bill to prohibit academic cheating services.
The IRU says that making it an offence to offer or advertise a cheating service is important for ensuring the integrity of Australia’s higher education system. Criminal and civil penalties targeting contract cheating service providers sends a strong message to those seeking to provide such services to students in Australia. Amending the TEQSA Act and using TEQSA as the regulator responsible for administering the law is appropriate.
The IRU is concerned, however, that the draft legislation is too broad in seeking to cover all cases of cheating through use of another party. The university concern is commercial services doing this. They should be the target.
Longer term, action by the States and Territories would ensure equal treatment of all potential cheating services.
Legislation on its own cannot completely disrupt the supply of contract cheating services, but when combined with institutional educative approaches targeting the demand from students, contract cheating can be minimised.
Targeting providers and advertisers of contract cheating services, rather than students, remains the most appropriate approach. Universities have in place educational programs, rules and sanctions to deal with instances of cheating and are best placed to manage the complexity and nuances of each instance. As a national regulator, TEQSA is better placed to disrupt the supply of cheating services.
For the legislation to be effective as a deterrent to providers, it is essential that students, universities and stakeholders understand its scope. This means clearly defining what constitutes cheating and a contract cheating service provider in a way that can be credibly enforced in a consistent manner.
It is in these areas that the approach outlined in the draft legislation faces challenges.
The draft legislation defines cheating and cheating service provider very broadly. Cheating includes “providing any part of a piece of work or assignment”. A cheating service provider can be “any person” who provides or advertises these services, irrespective of if it is intentional or for any gain for the person providing the service. This breadth creates uncertainty over what will be practically enforceable by TEQSA, whether universities become obligated to report all cases to TEQSA and when to involve TEQSA in investigations.
If strictly enforced by TEQSA, it may create considerable uncertainty amongst students and create fear that all forms of peer support (including student-to-student, or support from family and friends) should be avoided to avoid incriminating themselves or their support group.
The IRU proposes two options to target the legislation at the area of greatest concern, leaving other infringements to universities’ existing rules:
- Restricting the scope of the legislation to commercial contract cheating services
- Retain current list of cheating activities, but better define “part of a piece of work or assignment”.
In addition, to understand in advance of it being passed how the legislation would be enforced, TEQSA should set out its expectations of when and how universities will inform it of potential cases.