India key source of ‘contract cheating’ at UK varsities

  • Prasun Sonwalkar, London
  • Updated: Jan 06, 2016 00:42 IST
The phenomenon was first reported in academic circles in 2008 by academics Thomas Lancaster and Robert Clarke based at Birmingham City University (in picture). (I Stock Photo)

Thousands of students at British universities have been using Indian expertise in information technology in a growing phenomenon called “contract cheating”, whereby course assignments are contracted to freelancers and others online for a fee.

The phenomenon – first reported in academic circles in 2008 by academics Thomas Lancaster and Robert Clarke based at Birmingham City University – has become more sophisticated over the years, making it difficult to detect through usual plagiarism detection software.

Lancaster told Hindustan Times: “We’ve observed a lot of people from India bidding to complete academic work for students. They make offers that are very appealing to students from the UK, they’ll do the assignment for what is a low price for a UK student, but a good living wage for the worker in India.”

One “contractor” based in Kolkata has made over 200 postings and records indicate that assignments from UK, the US, Australia, India and Sri Lanka have been processed, Clarke said. Many such “contractors” are associated with online essay-writing services available for a fee.

According to Clarke, there has been a “significant increase” in the number of attempts made online, particularly in the past two years. India is a major source in this online activity but not the only one; others include Pakistan, Nigeria and Kenya.

“We’ve seen workers from India advertising that they have degrees from UK universities, so students hire them with the knowledge that they’re familiar with the UK education system,” Lancaster said.

Their revelations come in the context of reports last week of growing plagiarism and cheating by non-EU students at British universities, raising doubts about the credibility of degrees obtained by using such practices. Almost 50,000 students at British universities were caught cheating in the past three years amid fears of a plagiarism “epidemic”.

The researchers said the phenomenon is so wide and sophisticated that it is difficult to get a fix on numbers. If students are caught, which rarely happens, there are severe penalties, including removal from the varsity.

The researchers further said they had identified more than 30,000 examples worldwide of students trying to cheat by paying others to do assignments and examinations since 2005.

“There are a lot of fluent English speakers in India. Students can hire these people and get their assignments produced to a similar standard as if they’d used a more expensive native English speaker,” Lancaster said.

The researchers said many “jobs” were handed out online where fluent English ability is not necessary.

“For instance, in my area of computer science, we see requests for students to have their computer programming assignments completed for them. For a programmer based in India, they can often complete an introductory assignment in a few hours, when this would take a new student a few weeks. It works out as a good deal for both parties,” Lancaster said.

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