Sep 11, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Do students really pay other people to do their work for them, or is that just the stuff of television shows and movies? A recent study published in Frontiers in Education took a closer look at the issue of 'contract cheating,' and the results are eye-opening.

The 411 on Contract Cheating

An article published in the International Journal for Educational Integrity defines contract cheating as “a basic relationship between three actors; a student, their university, and a third party who completes assessments for the former to be submitted to the latter, but whose input is not permitted.”

Contract cheating is a particularly egregious form of cheating because it is a “qualitatively different concept” to other forms of cheating because it is “deliberate, pre-planned and intentional.” As a result, the punishments for contract cheating are especially severe.

A Growing Problem

All of which begs the question: just how common is contract cheating? The study, performed by researchers at a UK medical school, reveals the historic average of self-reported contract cheating to be 3.52 percent of students, which has increased to 15.7 percent in samples from 2014 to present. It is likely the phenomenon is even more prevalent due to underreporting.

Furthermore, the problem is also a “significant concern” within the international higher education sector: a 2017 International Journal for Educational Integrity article declared that there's been an “explosion in contract cheating” and that “most commentators agree that there has been a global rise in contract cheating in recent years, across all disciplines.”

So what can be done to reverse the contract cheating trend? Ireland has announced a new law which would prohibit the provision or advertising of any contract cheating services and New Zealand the USA already have such legislation in place.

The paper concludes with a summary of recommendations for commercial contract cheating policies, including the use of face-to-face assessments; improved education and support for students and staff; and changing the laws to make commercial contract cheating services illegal.

One last thing all students should know? Not all forms of cheating are as intentional or obvious as contract cheating. To protect yourself, check out “5 Rules About Plagiarism You Can’t Ignore.” Another defense against resorting to cheating? Take classes you like. 






Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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