Early last week One News ran a report which claimed some students – particularly international ones – were paying ghostwriters to complete their essays for them. Craccum has obtained an internal staff release that was sent out shortly after the report.
I am writing to you following the TVNZ story a few days ago alleging that ‘as many as half of international students’ at the University are cheating by employing ghost-writers for essays and assignments.
This was a disappointing piece of journalism from TVNZ, as the allegation came from only one anonymous student. Neither this student nor TVNZ provided any evidence to back up this claim. Several other students interviewed by TVNZ also admitted to using ghost-writers, and we can probably assume that others are as well. That does not, however, make ghost writing a widespread problem and it is highly disrespectful to our international students to suggest that it is.
These sorts of unverified claims are more damaging to the University more generally as they attack the integrity of our entire community, including our staff and students, current and past.
For these reasons I wanted to reassure you about the processes and controls the University has to inform students of their obligations and to alert us to cheating. These measures include:
The compulsory Academic Integrity Course for all students, which among other things makes it very clear what is expected from them in terms of academic honesty.
Investment in technology systems to detect plagiarism (which also helps to detect some ghost-written content), reflected in the extensive use of turnitin.
An assessment policy that ensures that all Stage 1 courses require an exam worth at least 50 percent of the final grade, with many courses having additional tests in exam-like conditions.
Work with peer-group universities in New Zealand and around the world to share best practice and educate our staff on the tell-tale behavioural patterns of students who may be engaged in cheating.
In addition, as we know there are unique challenges and pressures faced by international students who are studying away from their usual support networks (and sometimes in a second language), the University provides a range of support services to help build their confidence. These services include English Language support.
We know that ghost-writing is best identified by academic staff spotting an inconsistent performance between students’ assignments and their examinations, hence our emphasis on testing students’ knowledge in exam-like conditions. Students who have resorted to a ghost-writing service will be seriously disadvantaged in those exams, because they will not have the experience of writing their own material.
Of course, we should not be naïve about the possibility of cheating through the employment of ghost-writers. Cheating is an unfortunate part of human behaviour and a constant shadow in an academic institution. New technologies and the ease of being able to find ghost-writer services online make this a particular challenge. I am confident, however, that the measures the University has in place and the vigilance of our staff minimise the extent to which these dishonest practices undermine the efforts of the vast majority of our students and the values of the University.
Questions of academic honest are a regular focus of the Teaching and Learning Quality Committee so please forward any insights you might have on this issue to your Faculty representative on that Committee.