Oct. 9, 2019

Commercial contract cheating: How common is it?

Take a stand during Academic Integrity Week Oct. 15-18, and International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating, Oct. 16
Group exam
Third party outsourcing of academic work is on the rise in Canada. University of Calgary

Contract cheating is a form of academic misconduct that involves outsourcing academic work to a third party. In the past, it would evoke images of the smart kid next door getting paid to write papers. Today, contract cheating is a booming online industry that spans the globe.

Companies that offer these services — also known as essay mills or assignment completion services  — profit by directing custom orders to a large network of writers, coders or others who complete the work. Their fees usually depend on the the length, subject and deadline of the order.

These companies use persuasive marketing tactics to target students, in many cases leveraging YouTube influencers and GoogleAds to promote their services.

While it is difficult to provide accurate statistics on the practice, Canada is thought to tie the U.K. for second place for the numbers of online orders for academic work, with the U.S. taking top spot. Some Canadian studies estimate that as many as 3.5 per cent of students admit to contract cheating.

Why do students do it?

There are many factors that may influence a student to think that contract cheating is their best option. Elizabeth Tingle, a graduate student from the Werklund School of Education with a specialization in educational research says, “Sometimes students are desperate for what seems like an easier solution. In the end, the ‘solution’ can lead to other, far more serious problems, but it's hard to always keep that perspective in mind.  I think students who don't have access to family or institutional supports to manage the day-to-day difficulties of student life are especially vulnerable.”  

What are the consequences?

The prevalence of contract cheating in higher education has serious consequences. In the U.K. and Australia, contract cheating has resulted in major media scandals. Such scandals have not yet been seen in Canada, though the media is beginning to take note. When it occurs, it hurts the reputation of the institution and the post-secondary sector in general.

But perhaps of more concern is the impact of these predatory companies on students themselves.

“There have been documented cases of these companies harassing students with non-stop texts, badgering them to let them complete more assignments for the students, or worse, blackmailing students for more money with a threat of reporting them to the university if they refuse,” says Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, assistant professor at the Werklund School of Education. Eaton also serves as an Educational Leader in Residence (academic integrity), a program developed in partnership with the vice-provost (teaching and learning), vice-provost (student experience) and the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning.

For students, contract cheating could result in sanctions through the Student Academic Misconduct Policy.

Taking action against contract cheating

Contract cheating can be difficult for faculty and instructors to identify but several members of our campus community, including Dr. Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD (co-chair), Nancy Chibry (co-chair), Dr. Katherine Crossman, PhD, Lee-Ann Penaluna, Leeanne Morrow, Dr. Farideh Jalilehvand, PhD, Kevin Dang, Anayat Sidhu, Mady Thompson, Ocean Matyjanka, Elizabeth Tingle, Leila Larijani, and Adewale Ajayi are working together to raise awareness of this growing problem.

Academic Integrity Week is offered by Student and Enrolment Services Oct. 15 to 18. The week features a series of events and workshops for students. See the full workshop schedule here.  

Academic Integrity Week coincides with the International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating on Oct. 16.

Register now for International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating events: