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The new Australian law on academic cheating services

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency Amendment (Prohibiting Academic Cheating Services) Act became a law on 3 September 2020. Undergraduate and postgraduate students at Australian universities, whether you are located in Australia or in other countries, might be interested in the details of this law. Fortunately a lot of consultation happened and the law distinguishes very clearly between writing an academic work for someone else (which is an academic cheating service) and editing an academic work or offering advice.

The law is 21 pages long and there is a 25 page explanatory memorandum and a 7 page addendum to that memorandum.

What is an academic cheating service?

An academic cheating service is defined in the bill as:

 ‘the provision of work to or the undertaking of work for students, in circumstances where the work:
(a) is, or forms a substantial part of, an assessment task that students are required to personally undertake; or 
(b) could reasonably be regarded as being, or forming a substantial part of, an assessment task that students are required to personally undertake.’

So what does substantial mean under this law?

There is no actual definition, but the memorandum states:

‘Any assistance that did not change the intent or meaning of the student’s work would not be prohibited by the Bill. For example, … editing of a student’s work … would not be prohibited by the Bill so long as it didn’t represent a substantial part of the work.’

Is there an example?

The explanatory notes offer an example of an advertised academic cheating service:

‘Scott runs a website that offers custom essays to students for a price based on the number of words in the essay. Scott markets his services on university campuses and is aware that his essays are usually submitted as assessment tasks to higher education providers. Costa is a first year economics student at a higher education provider, who pays Scott to write the final essay for one of his units of study. Scott provides Costa with the essay, and makes Costa endorse a declaration that the purchaser understands that the essay produced by the website is a model answer only and should not be submitted for assessment as the purchaser’s own work. Costa acknowledges his acceptance of the declaration by clicking in the appropriate box on screen, and subsequently submits the essay as his assessment task. Requiring proof of fault would not deter Scott from continuing to sell custom essays, as Scott would be able to argue that he did not intend for his essays to be used by students as their own work.’

Who does this law apply to?

Subsection 114A(1) of the law specifies that the services to which this law applies are services offered to “students undertaking an Australian course of study (whether delivered in Australia or overseas) or an overseas course of study at Australian premises.”

Subsection 114A(3) specifies that this is illegal because the person ‘provides, offers to provide, or arranges for a third person to provide an academic cheating service to a person undertaking, with a higher education provider, an Australian course of study or an overseas course of study provided at Australian premises.’ 

Are there examples of what is NOT an academic cheating service?

The explanatory memorandum states that what is not prohibited includes:

‘editing, assisting with reference formatting, providing advice and providing tutoring services’.

The example below directly relates to professional editing:

Example 3: Debbie is a student at a higher education provider, completing a doctoral thesis. Debbie’s higher education provider allows the use of editorial services for doctoral theses. Claire runs a professional editorial service that fixes formatting, typographical and grammatical issues in higher education assessment tasks. Claire is paid by Debbie to edit Debbie’s doctoral thesis. As editing Debbie’s doctoral thesis does not represent a substantial part of the assessment task, Claire has not committed an offence or contravened the civil penalty provision under section 114A.’

Another example refers to advising on suggestions for improvement:

Example 5: Rena is a second year law student at a higher education provider, who is struggling with a written assessment task. Her mentor Kristy-Lee works as a lawyer. Kristy-Lee reviews Rena’s draft assessment task, suggests areas for improvement and proof-reads the assessment task. Rena then works to improve her assessment task as Kristy-Lee has suggested. As Kristy-Lee‘s advice and proof-reading does not form a substantial part of Rena’s assessment task, Kristy-Lee has not committed an offence or contravened the civil penalty provision under section 114A.’

This example is about helping a student to understand a software package:

‘Example 7: Ivan and Priya are both students in a higher education statistics course. Ivan asks Priya for help as he is having trouble using the statistical analysis computer software, which he is required to use for the major assignment. Priya gives Ivan some advice on how to use the software and also makes some suggestions about the best way for Ivan to present his results. Priya’s actions do not form a substantial part of Ivan’s assessment task, as Ivan still needs to complete the assessment task himself. Priya has not committed an offence or contravened the civil penalty provision under section 114A.’

When students sell study notes and their own assignment answers to other students, these are also specified as not providing academic cheating services, which is mentioned in the addendum to the explanatory notes. The addendum also states that when students share information about what they think is an academic support service but it is actually a service that sells essays, the students are not advertising an academic cheating service.

If you want to read the 21 page law itself, the 25 page explanatory memorandum for this law and the 7 page addendum for that memorandum, you can find more details here in very formal and legal language.

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