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May 20, 2013 | by  | in News |
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Cheaters Spotted, But Not Fast

A group has been established by the University to investigate whether the cheating service uncovered last week is operating at Victoria.

The Sunday Star-Times (SST) broke the story of an anonymous whistleblower who came forward to reveal that the website assignment4u.co.nz was more than just the “academic counselling” service it claimed to be.

The whistleblower, a former employee of the company, claimed that Assignment4u sells essays to international students with poor English for up to $600 per assignment.

While the company is based in Auckland, at least one person claiming to be from Victoria has advertised on the website, and a downloadable assignment for Victoria’s International Marketing course is for sale on the site.

The University maintains there is no current evidence that Victoria students have been involved in the service. Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Professor Penny Boumelha said there would be serious consequences for any students caught cheating.

“Victoria… has severe penalties in place for those who attempt to take credit for work this is not their own.”

Victoria had 814 international students at the start of the 2012 academic year.

The SST was able to buy an essay from the company for $270, which a media lecturer at the University of Canterbury graded at a B-plus level.

NZQA has since asked the SST to share their information, as during its own investigation in 2009 it could not find enough evidence to proceed. A second complaint via an anonymous letter in February this year was also not acted upon, as the evidence available was “too old” to provide viable evidence for prosecution.

Dr Karen Poutasi, NZQA’s Chief Executive, said that they could not have attempted to buy an assignment from the company as this could have impeded any potential prosecution.

“We cannot be seen to be breaking the law, being party to breaking the law or encouraging others to break the law, so there is a risk of entrapment if we were to request an assignment.”

Under law changes in 2011, NZQA was granted the power to prosecute anyone advertising or providing cheating services, but has not yet done so.

NZUSA President Pete Hodkinson has appeared to downplay the allegations, urging caution as “the scale of this particular form of cheating has yet to be proved.

“We believe one of the underlying areas of risk here is that tertiary education is being under-resourced… it’s not surprising that cracks start to appear.”

Tertiary Education Union president Lesley Francey has blamed the Government, saying that National’s 20-per-cent reduction in spending on tertiary education had forced universities to cut student support services and increase tutorial sizes, making study more difficult for international students and preventing staff from having as much contact with students.

Francey also claimed that union members had felt pressure from their institutions to pass students, as universities were having to make up funding shortfalls.

”If our members were allowed to exercise professional judgment some of these students wouldn’t pass.”’

Minister for Tertiary Education Steven Joyce, who said he was “very disappointed” at not having been informed about the allegations prior to the story breaking, has dismissed the claims.

“With the greatest respect, that’s a load of rubbish. The universities are very protective of their reputations,” said Joyce.

The registered owner and director of Assignment4u, Steven Quan Li, has not been seen since the story broke. Pengju Chen, who owns the office where the SST collected its purchased assignment from, has also disappeared.

New Zealand actively tries to attract international students, and the Government has a stated target of $5 billion in revenue from international students by 2025, double the current level. Victoria’s tuition fees for international students range from $20,850 per year for a Bachelor of Arts degree to $58,500 per year for a Master of Marine Conservation qualification.

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