Helping a friend finish a university assignment for money could soon be a jailable offence in Australia. The Federal Government is cracking down on a practice known as “contract cheating”, where students pay others to complete assignments or sit exams on their behalf, the ABC reports. Those found guilty of offering or advertising these services could face fines of up to $210,000 or up to two years in prison. But experts are worried the new legislation could also see benevolent friends and family members falling afoul of the law.
Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson, for one, is concerned the wording of the laws could be too broad to properly distinguish between those who are actively helping students cheat for profit and those who are just lending a helping hand.
"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 that 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.”
Associate Professor Phillip Dawson from Deakin University's Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning echoed Catriona’s concerns. "If I say 'hey it would be great if you reworded that sentence to be this other way', is that providing cheating services?" he asked. "If a student passes a note to another student in an exam or an older sibling offers to do the stats for their younger sibling's assignment, that shouldn't be a crime. That should be something that universities' existing academic integrity procedures should deal with."
There is some potential for the wording of the bill to be revised before the final draft is introduced to Parliament. In the meantime, however, Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan is standing firmly behind the proposed clampdown, which aims to reprimand service providers rather than students and ultimately protect the integrity of a university education.
"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 said in a statement. "The bill will give TEQSA (the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency) the power to seek Federal Court injunctions to require internet service providers to block access to domestic and international websites promoting cheating services."
Tehan provided the draft legislation in April for consultation, and has insisted he will take all feedback into account when finalising the bill.
"I expect to introduce it to Parliament this year," he said.
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