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The UK Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education has published the second edition of ‘Contracting to Cheat in Higher Education: How to Address Essay Mills and Contract Cheating’.

Increasing numbers of the 200+ million students in global Higher Education are paying others (companies known as Essay Mills) to complete assignments for them (known as contract cheating). This threatens the standards and quality of global Higher Education.

Since the 2017 first edition, which Professor Michael Draper also worked on, much has changed. Interest in and engagement with cheating in Higher Education has increased and there is now evidence to demonstrate that it is a widespread phenomenon which is a significant concern for the QAA and the public served by professional graduates across a range of disciplines.

To combat this, the QAA provides guidance to HE institutions. Michael sits on the Academic Integrity Advisory Group for the QAA and has worked with colleagues across Europe through the Council of Europe’s ETINED platform for a number of years in support of ethics and academic integrity in higher education.

In September 2018 45 Vice-Chancellors and sector leaders, representing institutions across the UK, wrote to the then Secretary of State of Education citing research undertaken by Professor Michael Draper and Professor Phil Newton from Swansea University to ask for action to be taken, including the introduction of legislation.

The revised QAA guidance is a further response to the rise of contact cheating and acknowledges the input of Professor Michael Draper along with Lawrence Thomas and Callum Morton, two student representatives at Swansea University, who were the only student contributors to be individually acknowledged by the QAA.

Professor Michael Draper said:

“The updated document reflects the changes to provision and support that have resulted as a consequence of necessary change arising from COVID-19. Higher Education Institutions across the UK including are making plans for their Autumn 2020 provision - with most providers adopting a blended approach of virtual provision and onsite and in-person contact with students physically-distanced assessment will be more commonplace than in previous years. This revised guidance is therefore very timely and necessary.”

Speaking of the opportunity, Lawrence Thomas said:

“It was an honour to be invited to assist Professor Draper and the QAA on the new guidance. It is clear that essay mills are unscrupulously targeting students and, in light of the recently increased reliance on remote assessments, the prevention of contract cheating is especially pertinent. Callum and I jointly reviewed the documentation with the aim of adding suggestions from a student’s perspective. We were wholly impressed with how comprehensive and insightful the updated guidance was, even at draft stage, and I am confident that it will be effective in eradicating contract cheating; therefore, upholding the integrity of assessments.”

Talking about the work undertaken, Callum Morton said:

"Working on the draft QAA guidance was very interesting. I believe the document is vital and will only become more important following COVID-19. As someone who is always wary of plagiarising, the guidance will be helpful; the better the direction given to institutions, the more useful the information that can be given to students. We were tasked with reading the guidance, providing any potential amendments to the document from a student perspective. To receive acknowledgement as the only student contributors is very exciting. It was a great experience and has definitely developed my analytical skills going forward."

Professor Draper has also recently worked with the QAA on providing guidance on academic standards and supporting student achievement in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and continues to work with the Council of Europe on policy responses supporting ethical academic behaviour.

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