Universities unite against the academic black market

The ConversationOn the TV show Suits, Mike Ross’s character charges a hefty fee to students to take the LSAT (law school admission test) for them. Ross has a stellar memory and a remarkable ability to take tests without getting crushed by stress — he is the perfect “contract cheater.” Later, Ross builds a career as a lawyer based on fake credentials, presumably from Harvard.

Mike Ross may be fictional, but his business is only too real within universities globally. “Contract cheaters” such as Ross complete academic work on a student’s behalf — for a fee. This work includes test taking and homework services. It includes essay-writing and even PhD thesis-writing services, also known as “paper mills.”

In my role as interim associate dean of teaching and learning at the University of Calgary, and as a researcher who specializes in plagiarism prevention and academic integrity, I have been writing about contract cheating since 2010. Since then, it has become rampant at high school and post-secondary levels.

This black market for academic work is vast and little understood. Universities in Canada, and around the world, are having a very hard time trying to police it.

On Oct. 18, 2017, many universities have committed to the second International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating. This aims to tackle the issue head on — by raising awareness and sharing prevention strategies.

Read the whole article in The Conversation (originally published on Oct. 16, 2017).

Check out the radio interview I did on CBC: http://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/calgary-eyeopener/segment/14438512

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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

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