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Time’s up for cheats as new laws announced

The Morrison government will introduce legislation to curb academic cheating at university, with people found guilty facing up to two years’ jail time or a $210,000 fine.

The new laws are targeting so-called “contract cheating”, where third parties provide assessment advice or services for students for a fee, including sitting exams. Research has shown that contract cheating is on the rise in Australia, with Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan warning that it threatens the integrity and international reputation of Australia’s higher education sector.

"A degree from an Australian university is valuable and the Morrison Government is protecting the investment we're making in higher education and protecting the value of our $35 billion international student sector by cracking down on cheats," he told the ABC.

There are concerns, however, that the phrasing of the amendment to the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Act is too broad, and might inadvertently affect more genuine instances of constructive feedback and assistance.

While Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said the bill was necessary, she is nonetheless worried about some of its language.

"There's a phrase [in the bill] describing prohibiting the provision of 'any part of a piece of work or assignment' that a student's required to complete," she said.

"We're concerned that that might mean if you were a mum or a dad at home proofreading your kid's essay, you say 'those three sentences don't work very well, how about you use this different sentence or this different construction or these different words?', that that kind of assistance might be captured.

"I don't think anyone wants that to be the case so we'd just like some of the language to have a little more attention before … they get to the very final version of the draft."

According to Turnitin’s academic partnerships manager Anna Borek, academic cheating brings into question not only Australia’s billion-dollar education system, but the trust we ascribe supposed “professionals” such as doctors, engineers and lawyers, who must complete rigorous tertiary courses to enter their professions. She argues that, while legislation is part of the solution, universities need help in identifying students engaging in academic cheating, particular the more difficult-to-identify contract cheating.

She spoke to Campus Review about the issue and what challenges lie ahead for the education sector.

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