Last week, the Governor-General granted Royal Assent, and Australia now has a new law on its books making it officially illegal to advertise or provide academic cheating services.

Why now? Our universities now educate about twice as many students as they did in 2000, and digital opportunity means unscrupulous businesses can more easily target anxious students, encouraging them to cross the line from “seeking help” to “sourcing answers.”

There are three main factors that may influence students to cheat, as found in world-leading research by Professor Tracey Bretag: those who speak English as a second language or have weak language skills, students who perceive there are lots of opportunities to cheat, and those who are dissatisfied with the teaching and learning environment.

More evidence will come, but 2020 has probably exacerbated these factors. Without strong support systems or guidance about where to turn for officially approved support, more students don’t know what to do, or are pushed into corners, out of financial anxiety or other factors.

So last year our parliament set about drafting legislation that would target businesses that seek to profit from anxious students who may be particularly vulnerable to the temptation of a well-crafted and timed message. The goal: reduce the “supply” of cheating services, while universities educate and support their students to reduce “demand.”

It’s more than the obvious “essay mills,” the sites that offer to write assignments for a fee. Websites with worked solutions, note-sharing websites, as well as websites that claim work is “for example only” or those that claim students implicitly agreed to an honour code, are all likely to fall under the definition of contract cheating as well.

And the legislation goes further by enabling the Tertiary Education Quality Standards Agency to require Telstra, Optus, other telcos to block the IP addresses, domain names, as well as requiring Google and other search engines to block search results of violators.

What does this mean for students at Australia’s universities? First, the law is targeting corporations, not students. Second, the government expects universities to take it upon themselves to educate students about academic integrity. This includes how to reference properly, avoid plagiarism, and more. Students can expect better study support options, more ways to ask for help whenever and wherever they are studying, and to be encouraged to use all approved resources and services.

Through COVID-19, universities have recognised there is substantial room to improve the student experience. Now, this timely combination of the sector’s self-awareness and legal regulation should be good news for students – especially non-traditional and on-line students who might have experienced less communication and support in the past. And it is certainly good news for all students who would otherwise be genuinely, anxiously searching for help and finding it in the wrong places.

Jack Goodman is founder of study support service and CMM advertiser), Studiosity


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