We need to talk about Contract Cheating

by | Sep 21, 2021 | Academic Integrity, Contract Cheating, Institute update, Projects

Emma Sanders, Institute of Teaching and LearningEmma Sanders is a Teaching and Learning Adviser in the Institute of Teaching and Learning (ITL). Rhea Poonevala was one of the ITL’s first Student Partners in 2020 and is currently a student on the BSc (Hons) IT with Business (ITMB) programme. Together they ensured a range of student voices fed into the work of the Contract Cheating Task and Finish Group. In this article, Emma reflects on their investigation into contract cheating at the University and discusses the findings with Rhea.

The University’s Contract Cheating Task & Finish Group (CCTG) convened for the first time in April 2020, with a remit to agree what support staff and students require in order to raise awareness and understanding about this specific form of academic malpractice.

Our own Professors Dave Schultz (FSE) and Dan Rigby (Hums) had already published papers on information literacy and the ‘market’ in essays respectively, and the group brought them together with academic representation from BMH as well as staff working across My Learning Essentials, Student Engagement, Student Conduct and Discipline (at university and faculty levels), and the Student Union’s Education Officer.

Rhea joined the group as a Student Partner in June 2020, having just completed her first year as an undergraduate. Rhea explains how “when I was first introduced to the project, I had never come across the term ‘contract cheating’. After researching it, I understood that it is the practice of engaging a third party to write an assignment on your behalf. It usually involves payment, which makes the cheating deliberate, pre-planned and intentional, despite being unethical – to the point that selling essays has been made illegal in some countries.”  

Although I had experience of supporting malpractice panels, I had no idea that selling assignments is now a massive industry that markets aggressively to students. When it comes to contract cheating, there are so many angles to consider, and we had to work quickly and closely together in order to understand the phenomenon and put some measures in place in time for September. It was an involved and absorbing project. The Quality Assurance Agency’s reports were a hugely helpful source of condensed information, and Phill Dawson, a Professor at Deakin University in Melbourne, is a specialist on this topic: he’s a regular speaker at conferences, and his webpagetwitter feedpapers and monograph are all really useful.

Working with Rhea was easily one of the most rewarding parts of the project. Once briefed, she very quickly took over the running of a series of focus groups; from recruiting and selecting participants, devising activities to elicit their thoughts within the sessions, to delivering them online, she really hit the ground running. Doing everything via email and Zoom meant that Rhea working from Bangkok while I was in Stockport wasn’t an issue.

As for the findings, the CCTFG were blown away with the richness of the data Rhea had collected and the concise way she presented the students’ views. Rhea even agreed to tutor me on how to use Canvas afterwards! In short, we realised that tackling this problem is everybody’s responsibility. All our findings indicated that contract cheating should be tackled holistically, through promoting a culture of academic integrity. Our students said that “[the] implications of contract cheating should be made clear,” and that they thought “the University should talk more about it because it’s never discussed or discouraged by lecturers”.

We advocate a two-pronged Campaign and Train approach: campaigning which focusses on awareness and discussions around ethics, supported by training in skills such as information literacy and critical thinking, in addition to the usual note-making and referencing. We – at all levels of the institution – need to develop and implement a year-long programme of student-facing messaging and resources, which begin at Welcome and Induction, if not before students even arrive at the University – informed by the recommendations proposed by the CCTFG Student Focus Groups in July 2020.

To support our staff in having these conversations, the CCTFG produced the Contract Cheating Toolkit. This covers Prevention, Detection and Action, and offers insight into the question of why students plagiarise and cheat. While there is no debate that cheating is wrong, it’s important to remember that the majority of our students would agree, and to discuss the issue with sensitivity. The QAA report that “essay mill marketing seeks to exploit students who are feeling vulnerable or anxious, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.” These companies directly target students’ university email accounts to sell their services, and it isn’t always clear that their use is not legitimate. This WonkHE article highlights the dangers students face and how they can be exploited. Seen through this lens, it is as much a safeguarding issue as it is a conduct and discipline issue.

After that period of intense activity over the summer of 2020, the CCTFG agreed to reconvene in a year’s time to review progress and determine the next steps. So, we will be regrouping later this month. There is still much to do. We’ll be working with the Student Conduct and Discipline Committee (SCDC), and as part of this ongoing work the CCTFG would love to hear from colleagues about any local initiatives or resources, and would welcome case studies or blog posts about our colleagues’ experiences.

With many thanks to the CCTFG members: Lynda Ashcroft, Sam Aston, Laetitia Alexandratos, Jason Hall, Ian Hutt, Nasser Latif, Lisa McDonagh, Dan Rigby, Chloe Salins, Dave Schultz, Damien Tolan, Matthew Valentine, and Judy Williams for their input.

If you are interested in finding out more on topic of contract cheating or you’d like to be involved with our ongoing work, you can contact Emma through the Institute of Teaching and Learning via email at teaching.learning@manchester.ac.uk.

Resources and training which may be of interest:
 Student resources and messaging: 
 Other recommended reading:
 References from this article:


We need to talk about Contract Cheating

by | Sep 21, 2021 | Academic Integrity, Contract Cheating, Institute update, Projects

Fruitcake cake danish oat cake powder jujubes caramels chupa chups jelly beans. Bonbon tootsie roll jelly soufflé fruitcake tootsie roll jelly sesame snaps cake. Gingerbread cotton candy oat cake jelly-o candy apple pie powder. Marshmallow powder chocolate bar sugar plum chocolate bar wafer marshmallow sugar plum bear claw. Marzipan macaroon bonbon sweet powder chocolate cake donut toffee carrot cake. Ice cream apple pie pastry. Wafer biscuit brownie bonbon. Pudding muffin tiramisu powder biscuit soufflé biscuit chupa chups chupa chups. Powder lemon drops pastry apple pie lemon drops cotton candy. Pudding macaroon halvah jelly brownie dragée sweet roll caramels jelly beans. Cookie biscuit lollipop. Donut jelly beans wafer marzipan powder oat cake gummies icing chocolate bar. Dessert fruitcake donut cupcake. Jelly macaroon brownie gingerbread cupcake donut fruitcake.

Sweet lemon drops topping brownie lollipop gummies biscuit candy canes donut. Jelly-o fruitcake macaroon. Muffin topping pudding liquorice danish chupa chups carrot cake cake. Sugar plum chupa chups apple pie chocolate cake bear claw chupa chups brownie topping carrot cake. Pastry gummi bears chocolate cake. Cake chocolate bar sugar plum icing cotton candy. Chupa chups halvah jelly macaroon candy canes danish halvah bonbon. Pie chupa chups sweet roll dragée pie wafer pudding. Soufflé jujubes jelly liquorice pudding pastry cotton candy pastry. Chupa chups jelly beans carrot cake caramels ice cream fruitcake. Candy gingerbread powder sugar plum macaroon candy oat cake tiramisu. Soufflé dragée sesame snaps powder topping halvah. Croissant gummies dessert donut dragée biscuit toffee. Donut ice cream lollipop.