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Academic Integrity
Technological developments have driven a change in both the nature of academic cheating and in the level of detection rates, both nationally and internationally.  Contract cheating often consists of companies, regularly referred to as “essay mills”, selling learners bespoke assignments, essays and even theses which learners then submit for assessment as their own work. Companies advertising such services claim that their products are “plagiarism free” in that they are original pieces of work and reassure learners that they are not breaching plagiarism restrictions by using them. Risk of detection is lower as such assignments are harder (or even impossible) to detect by the anti-plagiarism software commonly used by education and training institutions. 

The Irish Context

The facilitation of learner cheating by "essay mills" has been recognised by QQI as a growing threat to the integrity of Irish education. A number of significant exposures of academic cheating in other jurisdictions have come to light in recent years, drawing attention to this new and growing form of cyber-crime which presents a significant threat to academic integrity and overall reputational damage to the Irish education system.  

Legislative Changes

On foot of representations by QQI to the Department of Education and Skills, a new provision was included in the Qualifications and Quality Assurance (Education and Training) (Amendment) Act 2019 which was enacted in July this year. 
 
Section 43A (link here) of the legislation specifically empowers QQI to prosecute those who facilitate academic cheating.  The provisions can be summarised as follows:


Impersonation

- Undertaking in whole or in part any work required as part of a programme in the place of an enrolled learner, without permission from the provider;
- Sitting an exam, or having someone else sit an exam, in place of an enrolled learner, without permission from the provider;

Provision of Cheating Services

- Providing answers, or arranging the provision of answers, to an enrolled learner for an exam, during the course of that exam, without permission from the provider;
- Providing, or arranging the provision of, an assignment required of an enrolled learner without permission from the provider
- Before an exam, providing answers for, or arranging the provision of answers for, an exam for an enrolled learner without permission from the provider;


Advertising Cheating Services

- Advertising the provision of assignments for learners where this has not been authorised by the provider;
- Advertising the undertaking of assignments (in whole or in part) on behalf of an enrolled learner or sitting an exam, or having someone sit an exam, in place of an enrolled learner, where this has not been authorised by the provider; 


Publishing Advertisements for Cheating Services

- Publishing an advertisement for the provision of exam answers to learners during the course of an exam where this has not been authorised by the provider; and
- Publishing an advertisement for the provision of assignments or exam answers in advance of an exam to an enrolled learner where this has not been authorised by the provider.
- QQI is responsible for bringing prosecutions in respect of each of these offences which can attract penalties ranging from fines of up to €100,000 per offence and/or prison sentences of up to 5 years, depending on the nature of the offence. 

The Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations are exempted from the legislation.

National Academic Integrity Network

QQI has established a National Academic Integrity Network, the inaugural meeting of which took place on Thursday 14th November.  The network will represent public and private higher and education providers, and learner representatives to:

agree common definitions of academic cheating and grow our knowledge and understanding of academic misconduct in an Irish context
- identify and disseminate good practice in dealing with cheating;
- inform a dedicated communications strategy on this issue; and
- develop methodologies for the reporting and prosecution of instances of cheating within HEIs. 

This network will address higher education in the first instance as international research has identified this sector as particularly vulnerable to contract cheating.  This initiative will be extended to the further education and training sector in 2020.

Next Steps

• Dr Padraig Walsh, CEO of QQI, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with TEQSA (Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency), our Australian sister agency.  This MoU will build on the existing working relationship between the two agencies, with specific commitment to exchange information and offer professional advice about academic fraud and contract cheating, in order to protect the academic integrity within each other’s jurisdiction.
• QQI will engage with publishers and advertisers to formally advise them of their obligations under the new legislation.
• QQI is proactively engaged with projects at EU and level in this area to ensure that Ireland is at the forefront of initiatives to collaboratively address the challenges presented by online academic fraud.  Dr Deirdre Stritch, Academic Integrity Co-ordinator at QQI has represented Ireland at a Council of Europe meeting which heard of the extent of academic malpractice Europe and the steps different countries are taking to prevent and detect it. The delegates reviewed a draft Council of Europe policy framework Countering Education Fraud and promoting ethics, transparency and integrity in education.
• A comprehensive communications campaign in 2020, led by QQI, will target providers, learners, advertisers and publishers, across the HE and FET sectors to inform them of the new legislation and its implications for them.
• QQI plans to introduce several enhancement tools and initiatives to support education providers in preventing and dealing with such activity. 
• QQI is currently engaged in an extensive public consultation in relation to the Assessment of Learners and Learning which is very relevant in the context of academic cheating.  A Green Paper was published in 2018 and discussion events were hosted separately for the HE and FE sectors.  QQI has compiled stakeholder feedback and recently published a response.
• QQI is also collaborating on an international project involving peer agencies and HEIs on detection and analysis of academic cheating.


Further Reading