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Academic Integrity: QQI signs MOU with Australian regulators

Irish regulator enabled to prosecute cheating services

Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) has today signed an agreement which will see the Irish education and training quality regulator and qualifications body work more closely with its Australian counterpart in the fight against academic cheating.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by Dr Padraig Walsh, CEO of QQI and Anthony McClaran, CEO of Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, Australia (TEQSA) has identified a number of areas for collaboration including:

  • approaches to dealing with academic fraud and contract cheating in both jurisdictions;
  • quality assurance of transnational education;
  • and quality assurance.  

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 colleges. 

The signing of this MoU follows on from the commencement of Irish legislation which provides QQI with the statutory powers to prosecute those who:

  • assist learners to cheat by completing, in whole or in part, any piece of work required of the enrolled learner for their programme of study, or sit an exam or facilitate the sitting of an exam by someone other than the enrolled learner or provide answers for an exam;
  • advertise cheating services;
  • publish advertisements for cheating services.

The legislation applies to academic cheating in further and higher education and training.  Penalties can range 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.

Dr Walsh, QQI CEO, highlighted the national benefits of adopting a collaborative approach to tackling academic cheating:

'We welcome the commencement of this important new legislation which allows QQI to tackle an area we have identified as posing a significant risk to the reputation and integrity of the Irish education and training system.  QQI will engage in an extensive programme of collaboration with key stakeholders to help them understand their respective responsibilities in this area – students in understanding the damaging effects of cheating to the integrity of their qualification; institutions in creating a culture which deters cheating and developing robust systems and student supports to counteract cheating; and publishers and advertisers in navigating their new legal obligations in relation to advertising content for these, now illegal, services." 

Dr Walsh continued, 'This is a global problem from which no institution is immune, and QQI will work closely with international counterparts, such as TEQSA and other agencies, in sharing information and best practice to achieve the best outcomes for the reputation of Irish education and training.' 

As an initial step, QQI has established a National Academic Integrity Network representing public and private higher education and training providers, and learner representatives to identify good practice in dealing with cheating and develop ways to report and penalise instances of cheating within HEIs. This initiative will be extended to the further education and training sector in early 2020.

Today's MoU was signed at the annual TEQSA conference where QQI CEO, Dr Padraig Walsh spoke on the theme of Quality Partnerships with Students and Academics Driving Academic Integrity: Contract Cheating.