“Contract cheating” is an umbrella term used by the University to describe a form of academic misconduct, where a student submits work that has been produced by someone other than the student, whether this has been paid for or not.

Contract cheating is often associated with ‘essay mills’ sites, where a student can register a request for someone to “help” write an assignment. This can lead to entering into a contract with the ‘essay mill organisation’, or the individual who responds to their request, to complete the assignment. It is important to note ‘essay mills’ also deal with assessments other than essays. Whereas plagiarism can often be an unintentional act by the student, contract cheating is seen as a more deliberate, planned action and therefore exacts a harsher penalty than would be given to a student who has plagiarised. Numerous external sources of guidance on contract cheating are available, such as the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) Guide “Contracting to cheat in Higher Education”.

 

Contract Cheating: FAQs

How do we identify possible contract cheating?

There are several indicators that students may have submitted work that has not been completed by themselves. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Checking Word document properties for the document owner and the total editing time. If the author or last person to modify the document is not the student who submitted the assignment, or the total editing time is shown as only a few minutes, this is a good indication that the work has been completed by someone other than the student.
  • Checking English language use, as suspicions may arise where an assignment from a non-native English speaker is presented with perfect English, both in grammatical terms and in vocabulary. 
  • Noting variations in quality throughout the assignment. There may be variations in the quality of the writing throughout the submission, e.g. components may be written in a less grammatically correct manner than the main body of the assignment. This is a good indication that the different sections may have been written by different individuals. 
What is the penalty for contract cheating?

Contract cheating does not occur by accident, it does not happen because the student misunderstands what they have to do, or because they overlooked to reference their sources properly. Contract cheating requires the student to have planned for someone else to undertake the assignment for them, which they submit as though it was written by them. This planned, pre-meditated action, normally incurs the harshest of penalties, i.e. common grading scale (CGS) G3 for the assessment and expulsion from the University. 

Standard penalties can, of course, be reduced by the University Investigation Officer depending on the extent of cheating and whether there are any mitigating factors than can be taken into consideration.

How can staff help minimise contract cheating?

There are a range of strategies and approaches to help academics minimise collusion opportunities for students in assessments; these include, but are not restricted to:

  • Investigating authentic assessments, which simulate real-world learning and projects e.g. blogs, debates, portfolios. Guidance and examples of authentic assessments are available here.
  • Avoiding reusing the same essay titles/assignment tasks each academic year. 
  • Building in checkpoints to enable students to provide evidence of their progress. For example, submission of drafts or a short progress report, or have an in-class update on progress. This can be beneficial for the student to help them manage their time more effectively, which might remove the temptation for contract cheating. In addition, it can be helpful in identification of contract cheating where you see a marked change in the submitted assignment compared to the draft.
  • Being aware that short deadlines will not minimise contract cheating. Many sites offer 24- hour turnaround times – often at an increased cost.