Cheating at major Australian universities may be easier than many realise

Senior academics have raised concerns cheating at major Australian universities may be easier than many supervisors realise.

The concerns come as the Australian National University continues to investigate an essay farm selling completed assignments to Chinese students in Canberra.

Up Next

Wanted: remote area lighthouse keeper

Video duration

More National News Videos

Would uni reforms curb cheating?

As reported in November 2014, academics claim some international students are "functionally illiterate," and being exploited for fees. With Shadow Assistant Education Minister Amanda Rishworth and Liberal MP Wyatt Roy.

The service, Assignment King, advertises its services in Mandarin on a community website and promises to deliver original assignments that cannot be detected by anti-plagiarism software.

Only two of the 51 ANU students caught plagiarising last year were suspended with the remainder either failing their subjects or being forced to resubmit and attend counselling services.

One student at the University of Canberra was suspended for 12 months for repeat offences last year, despite academics confirming 391 instances of academic misconduct

Acting ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Margaret Harding said only a tiny minority of 20,000 enrolled students at the ANU were caught cheating or deliberately plagiarising.


"Students thinking of coming to ANU and cheating should think again," she said. "If you cheat you put your entire degree at risk and face very serious penalties ranging from a formal reprimand and training through to expulsion."

Philip Dawson, an associate professor at Deakin University, said detecting "copy and paste plagiarism" was simple with technology but it was difficult to spot experienced ghost writers.

"One way students are bypassing plagiarism detection is through back translation," he said.

"Ask Google Translate to turn your English text into Spanish, then turn that Spanish text into English, and you'll get a completely rephrased piece of text that TurnItIn won't spot. It's not elegant but it's free and hard to detect."

Mr Dawson, who is also an associate director at the Centre for Research in Assessment and Digital Learning, said a cultural change was necessary to limit plagiarism at universities.

"Like other forms of plagiarism there are a range of often quite sad reasons why a student pays someone to do the work for them," he said. "To solve this problem we need to know more about why students do it."

Robert Nelson, an associate professor at Monash University, said many universities were tackling the problem of plagiarism "unimaginatively".

"They like to imagine that there's a technical fix and once they've installed an enterprise-wide plagiarism detection system, the problem is largely solved," he said.

"The same software that tells you that your essay is plagiarised can also be used to fiddle with the paraphrase so that it escapes detection. Also, it can get material in a foreign language and translate it into English."

Mr Nelson said universities must convince students it is more valuable to learn than cheat.

The University of Canberra has recently changes its rules on plagiarism with those suspended for misconduct unable to re-enroll in a subject for five years.

The Canberra contact for Assignment King declined to comment on this story.