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Forget plagiarism: there’s a unique and bigger threat to academic integrity.

Adele Thomas can not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that will take advantage of this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

University of Johannesburg provides funding as a partner of this Conversation AFRICA.

The Conversation UK receives funding from the organisations

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Academic plagiarism is no longer just sloppy “cut and paste” jobs or students cribbing large chunks of an assignment from a friend’s earlier essay on the same topic. These days, students can visit any of simply a number of paper or essay mills that litter the world-wide-web and buy a completed assignment to provide as their own.

These businesses that are shadowy not going away anytime soon. Paper mills can’t easily be policed or shut down by legislation. And there’s a trickier issue at play here: they offer a service which an alarming wide range of students will happily use.

Managing this newest form of academic deceit will need hard work from established academia and a renewed commitment to integrity from university communities.

Unmasking the “shadow scholar”

In November 2010, the Chronicle of Higher Education published a write-up that rocked the academic world. Its anonymous author confessed to having written significantly more than 5000 pages of scholarly work each year on the part of university students. Ethics was one of the issues that are many author had tackled for clients.

The practice continues five years on. At a conference about plagiarism held in the Czech Republic in June 2015, one speaker revealed that up to 22% of students in a few australian programmes that are undergraduate admitted to buying or intending to buy assignments on the web.

In addition emerged that the paper mill business was booming. One site claims to receive two million hits every month for its 5000 free papers that are downloadable. Another allows cheats to interview the people electronically who will write their papers. Some even claim to use university professors to make sure the quality of work.

A typical example of among the many paper mills that a simple Google search brings up.

Policing and legislation becomes quite difficult considering that the company assignments that are selling be domiciled in the US while its “suppliers”, the ghostwriters, are based elsewhere in the world. The customer, a university student, might be any essay helper place in the world – New York City, Lagos, London, Nairobi or Johannesburg.

No quick fixes

If the ongoing companies and writers are typical shadows, how can paper mills be stopped? The answers most likely lie with university students – and with the academics who teach them.

The anonymous writer whose paper mill tales shocked academia explained when you look at the piece which types of students were utilizing these types of services and just just how much they were happy to pay. At the right time of writing, he was making about US$66,000 annually. His three main client groups were students for whom English is a second language; students who are struggling academically and those that are lazy and rich.

His criticism is stinging:

I live well in the desperation, misery, and incompetence that your educational system has established.

Ideally, lecturers when you look at the system of which he’s so dismissive ought to know their students and be able to therefore detect abnormal patterns of work. However with large undergraduate classes of 500 students or even more, this known degree of engagement is impossible. The opportunity for greater engagement that is direct students rises at postgraduate levels as class sizes drop.

Academics should also carefully design their methods of assessment because these could serve to deter students from buying assignments and dissertations. Again, this program is much more feasible with smaller variety of postgraduate students and live dissertation defences.

This isn’t foolproof. Students may still make the time to familiarise themselves with all the contents of this documents they’ve bought to allow them to answer questions without exposing their dishonesty.

In the conference, some academics suggested that students should write assignments on templates given by their university that may track when tasks are undertaken so when it is incorporated into the document. However, this type of remedy is still being developed.

There clearly was another problem with calling on academics alone to tackle plagiarism. Research suggests that many may themselves be guilty of the same offence or may ignore their students’ dishonesty simply because they feel investigating plagiarism takes a lot of time.

It has also been proved that cheating behaviour thrives in environments where you can find few or no consequences. But perhaps herein lies a remedy that could help in addressing the nagging issue of plagiarism and paper mills.

Universities exist to advance thought leadership and moral development in society.

As such, their academics should be role models and must promote behaviour that is ethical the academy. There should be a zero tolerance policy for academics who cheat. Extensive instruction must certanly be provided to students about the pitfalls of cheating plus they should be taught techniques to boost their academic writing skills.

Universities must develop a culture of integrity and keep this through ongoing dialogue in regards to the values on which academia is dependent. In addition they want to develop institutional moral responsibility by really examining how student cheating is dealt with, confronting academics’ resistance to reporting and coping with such cheating, and taking a tough stand on student teaching.

Then institutional values will become internalised and practised as the norm if this is done well. Developing such cultures requires determined leadership at senior university levels.

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