Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Prohibiting Academic Cheating Services) Bill 2019

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Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Prohibiting Academic Cheating Services) Bill 2019

25 August 2020

 

I rise tonight to speak in support of the Tertiary Education Quality
and Standards Agency Amendment (Prohibiting Academic Cheating Services) Bill 2019. Australia is home to one
of the best education systems in the world. We all take pride in Australians having an equal opportunity to access
quality tertiary education. The job of rebuilding our economy is now ahead of us. The Morrison government is of
course working hard to ensure that we have a skilled workforce to support the ever-changing needs of the market.
As the economy evolves we need to ensure that we have a skilled workforce to support the changing nature of the
market. To ensure that we’re providing skilled workers and quality education we must stamp out cheating services.

Traditionally academic cheating involved the simple task of students copying from one another, but in this
modern world commercial cheating services have become, sadly, very common. The issue of commercial cheating
services—or contract cheating, as it has become known—came to the attention of the government in 2014 in the
wake of media reports regarding the widespread use by students of a commercial cheating site known as
MyMaster. The Minister for Education and Training at the time referred the matter to the TEQSA for
investigation.

Of course it would be remiss to suggest that all students are involved in these sorts of practices. In fact, the
investigations that have been undertaken show that some students are more likely to engage in these behaviours
than others. The likelihood of cheating is influenced by, surprisingly, gender—more male students self-reported
cheating than female students—and age, with younger students being more prone. Linguistic background and the
use of technology are two other factors that are reported to influence whether or not students conduct this
behaviour.

Third-party cheating typically involves the provision of academic material that is subsequently submitted by a
student for assessment, or a third party even impersonating a student in an exam or a practical test. It is
disappointing that we do have people who will rort the system. Unfortunately, the provision of these services has
become more widespread through targeted promotions for cheating services through on-campus advertising,
emails, social media and other forms of promotion. These targeted promotions are now being used to highlight the
ease of access. The minimal cost is also a feature as well as the low risk of detection. In so doing, they do, of
course, downplay the ethical dishonesty and the risk to the student’s future study and career prospects, not to
mention the overwhelming undermining of the academic integrity of a system.

Those engaged in providing academic cheating services are ultimately exploiting students and undermining the
integrity of our high-quality degrees. This bill aims to stop this. The bill amends the Tertiary Education Quality
and Standards Agency Act to make it an offence to advertise academic cheating services to students studying with
an Australian higher education provider, whether the service is provided from within Australia or from overseas.
It also serves to add preventing and minimising the use and promotion of academic cheating services to the
responsibilities of Australia’s higher education regulator, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, or
the TEQSA as it has been previously referred to.

The bill will see commercial cheating services sold to Australian students face civil and criminal penalties of up
to two years imprisonment and fines of up to 500 penalty points, which equates to about a $100,000 fine. It does
set a very high threshold. It has been set deliberately high to create a strong deterrent to those who seek to provide
these services. These penalties will apply where cheating services are advertised for a commercial purpose. The
bill also introduces civil penalties of up to 500 penalty units which will apply when the cheating service is
provided without remuneration. The object of this is to stamp out third-party cheating that’s occurred on an unpaid
basis. Research has shown that a large portion of third-party cheating occurs, sadly, by family or friends, or others
in the community. It’s intended that strict liability will apply to the criminal offence of providing an academic
cheating service, but, to be clear, mums and dads at home who help proofread or edit a son’s or a daughter’s essay,
or give advice on to how to improve an assignment, are obviously not intended to be captured by this bill. They
won’t be impacted.

This decision has been made after significant consultation with the sector. It’s designed to target commercial
cheating services and, of course, not the students who use them. But just because the students are not covered, it
doesn’t mean they’ll get off scot-free. Students who cheat will, of course, still be subject to their institution’s own
academic integrity policies and sanctions, including the consequences that flow from those. It is important to
reinforce for the students who are considering using such cheating services that getting a tertiary education is a
privilege, not an entitlement. Our students should take the responsibility, the opportunity and the privilege of
getting a tertiary education seriously and respect the obligations that go with it. Such actions will ultimately call
into question the integrity of our system and the qualifications earned. Of course, in some areas of study, such as
the discipline of medicine, there is a risk that these sorts of services may irresponsibly put the lives of others at
risk as a result of assumed knowledge and the possession of skills obtained during these courses.

Cheaters should never prosper under this government. These cheating services are a blight on our education
system. It is currently too easy for those who provide these services to prey on students. It must be remembered,
of course, that students who use the services are often away from home, under pressure, under stress and having
difficulty with their studies, and the provision of these services does provide instruction that it is okay to buy an
essay or have someone else take an exam for them. They’re told by these service providers that no-one will find
out or that there’s a minimal risk of detection and there are no consequences if that happens. We know this is not
the case. If it were, we wouldn’t be standing in this chamber speaking to the bill which specifically targets this
easy way out.

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency will be appointed under this new law with powers to
include monitoring, intelligence gathering, investigation and prosecution of identified offenders. This body will
have the ability to seek injunctions and to force internet service providers and search engines to block cheating
websites. They’ll have additional power to collect and disseminate information about cheating websites and their
users to help institutions combat cheating activities on campus—of course, with safeguards to protect the
unwarranted sharing of personal information of those who purchase these services. The national regulator will be
given powers to investigate and then to recommend prosecution of the providers.

The bill comes after consultation, as I said, with the sector and gives effect to the advice of the Higher
Education Standards Panel that legislation was required to deter such services. While many aspects of these
services and the provision of same are already subject to criminal and civil penalties—for example, the offences
of fraud, misrepresentation and dishonestly dealing with documents—they can often be difficult to pursue and provide very little deterrence in certain instances, as there is often no law which explicitly outlines the provision
of these services specifically.

The Higher Education Standards Panel also found that the array of state, territory and Commonwealth laws
relevant to these offences makes it difficult to pursue legal solutions against the providers, and the panel’s advice
was that additional legislative backing is needed to more effectively deal with the risks. It’s actually modelled on
the New Zealand Education Act and their approach. The legislation comes with the support of Universities
Australia, who have said:

Universities Australia thanks Education Minister Dan Tehan for taking a strong stance on the issue and for incorporating our
feedback into the revised Bill.

The legislation now draws a distinction between commercial cheating services – which face criminal penalties – and civil
penalties for people who help a student cheat without payment.

To not stamp out cheating services poses a significant threat to the integrity and the reputation of our higher
education system, both in Australia and internationally, and the bill acts to ensure that our students are not taken
advantage of. It also sends the message that third-party cheating is not just immoral and it doesn’t just undermine
the integrity of our education system and our society; it will now be illegal. For these reasons, I commend the bill.

 

 

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