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Hear From Dr. Donna Velliaris in Her Guest Blog on Contract Cheating

Contract Cheating: A Billion Dollar Industry

By Donna Velliaris on Jul 17, 2020

With research insight, expert Dr. Donna M Velliaris, an esteemed editor/author of the publications, Handbook of Research on Academic Misconduct in Higher Education (2016), and Prevention and Detection of Academic Misconduct in Higher Education (2019), as well as contributor of 30+ IGI Global book chapters, shares her concerns pertaining to ‘contract cheating’. Today, as we move towards increased online instruction due to COVID-19, higher education (HE) students may be feeling intensified pressure and be drawn to partaking in academic misconduct via contract cheating.


VelliarisDr. Donna Velliaris

Internationally, the market for contract cheating is growing and exists across the whole education industry, from schools to universities. Of particular concern is the proliferation of market-savvy commercial providers who lure students via social media, online platforms, and other advertising forums. This has raised the level of interest and alarm concerning students’ learning outcomes, institutional reputations, and the credibility of HE qualifications.

Contract cheating—‘pseudepigraphy’ or ‘ghost writing’—is when someone ascribes false authorship to a given text. It is a subset of plagiarism i.e., where collusion occurs between the originator of the work and the student. Contract cheating is different from plagiarism in three main ways:

  • under contract cheating, authorship is attributed falsely, and under plagiarism there is no attribution;
  • while both use someone else’s work without acknowledgement and present this work as one’s own, contract cheating ‘hires’ that other person to do the work; and
  • due to its ‘tailor-made’ aspects, contract cheating is more difficult to detect and investigate.

Unequivocally, the web has simplified cheating, dramatically expanding the accessibility, visibility, and ease with which students can lift, recycle, or otherwise claim authorship of work that is not their own. Contract cheating is largely enabled by the internet, where websites can be classified into three main categories: (1) essay mills; (2) discussion forums; and (3) auction or agency sites. Contract cheating is an extension of ‘social scaffolding’, starting from legitimate peer support, to private tuition, to proof reading, to copy editing, and finally to contract writing.

Cheating in college is nothing new, but the internet now makes it possible on a global, industrial scale. Sleek websites — with names like Ace-MyHomework and EssayShark — have sprung up that allow people in developing countries to bid on and complete American homework assignments.

The New York Times, 7 September 2019

Challenges are compounded further as a consequence of distance learning, online education, and for-profit schools. Commercial contract cheating providers use persuasive marketing techniques to create a sense of urgency, convenience, and legitimacy. For a price, and even within extremely short turnaround times of hours rather than days, an assessment task can be contracted out to a third party; underscoring short-term gains over long-term losses. This practice is inclusive of ‘substantive editing’. While securing such services may involve monetary payment, this is not a defining feature. (Nb. Legitimate assistance provided to a student with special needs e.g., a scribe assisting a student with a disability to undertake an examination is an entirely unrelated situation.)

Students are expected to pay $200 for a standard 1,000-word essay, with prices increasing to over $300 for a guaranteed high-distinction mark.

Daily Mail, Australia, 2 December 2019

What differentiates ghostwriting is that, true to its name, it leaves a far less visible trail. Assuming that an instructor has cause to suspect this type of cheating, he/she now has the unenviable obligation to demonstrate guilt based on suspicion. Detecting ghostwritten materials requires some familiarity with a student’s subject knowledge and writing style, which can be near impossible when teaching a course catering to 100+ students. While there is no type of assessment that will entirely prevent outsourcing, there are select assessment tasks that are ‘less likely’ to be outsourced due to their uniqueness e.g., never-before-released case studies, specific data sets, and personal reflective narratives based on a lecture/tutorial-delivered film as examples.

Australia’s higher education watchdog will ramp up cooperation with international regulators to tackle industrial-scale contract cheating, which is challenging institutions the world over.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 17 January 2020

Given that contract cheating is a relatively new phenomenon, it is imperative that HE providers include specific information about this unethical practice across multiple media, such as their learning management systems and course outlines. Making explicit that ‘contract cheating is unacceptable’, warrants the message being regularly verbalized and reiterated in both face-to-face and online environments, and must be part of a holistic approach to promoting academic integrity (AI) on campus.


IGI Global would like to thank Dr. Donna Velliaris for sharing her research. For more information about this research, view her most recent publication on academic misconduct, Prevention and Detection of Academic Misconduct in Higher Educationpublication here.
Prevention and Detection of Academic Misconduct in Higher Education

Available in print and electronic format, Prevention and Detection of Academic Misconduct in Higher Education can be ordered with an automatic 50% discount* off the list price of the electronic format when purchasing the publication directly through IGI Global’s Online Bookstore. Additionally, all of IGI Global's publications are available on the article and chapter level through our OnDemand feature for as low as US$ 30. This publication is also available across preferred providers such as GOBI Library Solutions, EBSCOHost, Oasis, and Ebook Central (discounts may vary), as well as IGI Global’s InfoSci-Books (5,900+ e-books) database.

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About Dr. Donna M. Velliaris: Dr. Donna M. Velliaris holds two Graduate Certificates: (1) Australian Studies; and (2) Religious Education, two Graduate Diplomas: (1) Secondary Education; and (2) Language and Literacy Education, as well as three Master’s degrees: (1) Educational Sociology; (2) Studies of Asia; and (3) Special Education. In 2010, Dr Velliaris graduated with a PhD in Education focused on the social/educational ecological development of school-aged transnational students in Tokyo, Japan. Her primary research interests include: human ecology; Third Culture Kids (TCKs); schools as cultural systems; and study abroad. With publication of over 30 book chapters, her titles comprise: Academic reflections: Disciplinary acculturation and the first-year pathway experience in Australia [Garnet]; Conceptualizing four ecological influences on contemporary ‘Third Culture Kids’ [Palgrave Macmillan]; Culturally responsive pathway pedagogues: Respecting the intricacies of student diversity in the classroom [IGI Global]; The other side of the student story: Listening to the voice of the parent [Sense]; and Metaphors for transnational students: A moving experience [Cambridge Scholars].


For your reference, find below a sample of related titles, which are also featured in IGI Global’s InfoSci-Books database and are available for purchase in print and electronic format. Be sure to recommend these titles to your librarian, to ensure your institution can acquire the most emerging research.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of IGI Global.


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