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What drives international students to cheat?

Jonathan Lian

Wed May 27 2015


INTERNATIONAL students in Sydney have come under fire recently from a cheating scandal involving a “ghost writing” service. Why do they do it? Jonathan Lian and Amber Wang report.


The consequences are huge, but it hasn’t stopped international students from turning to “ghost writing” services to help with essays and assignments.

First reported in 2012, these services are easily accessible and are targeted at international students willing to fork out large sums of money to have their assignments completed on their behalf.

The issue made headlines once again earlier this year, when university students from Sydney were discovered using cheating services such as the now defunct MyMaster.

According to Fairfax, more than $97,000 was paid in 2014 by these international students to MyMaster, which led to a crack down on essay writing services by universities in New South Wales.

So what is driving international students to cheat?

Students struggling with English

Tony Wang, president of University of Melbourne’s international student body UMSU International, says students struggling to communicate effectively in English and under pressure to meet high standards expected at universities may be driving students to cheat.

“Such barriers keep them from seeking help from university student services as they’ll have to talk about their problems in English,” Mr Wang said.

“And that’s why ghost writing services can easily get struggling students, they can communicate well in their client’s mother tongue.”

International student Derek Liu from the University of Melbourne says students are aware of services on campus such as the Student Academic Service but are often reluctant to access it.

“We would have to make a booking and arrange a one-on-one meeting ourselves which may not be easy as poor English speakers,” he said.

“We would mostly ask our classmates from the same background for help, or even turn to our previous English teachers from our home country,” Mr Liu said.

“Other personal reasons could also be a lack of confidence as some students may feel embarrassed in seeking help and some are worried their undesirable results will be made public,” he added.

The means to an end 

Mr Wang says some students simply see ghost writing services as a means to an end.

While international students have paid a big price to study overseas, not all are here of their own accord.

“All international students are paying a big price to study here… but some may have no goals or directions in life and simply have the money,” he said.

For others, it’s about juggling the demands of university and paying the bills. Mr Wang says students sometimes finding themselves working long hours to pay the bills, which inevitably leaves them with little to no time to work on their assignments.

“Working to pay the bills do create additional burdens… which means they won’t be having enough time to study, so they seek an easier and faster way to finish their assignments,” he said.

Students urged to seek help 

Manager of the University of Melbourne’s Academic Skills and Registar Department, Guido Ernst, is urging struggling international students to seek help from their university’s academic support services.

“Students can attend our workshops featuring a number of topics about writing in English, exam preparation, time management and many more,” Mr Ernst said.

Mr Ernst says the university hosts numerous tutorials and workshops to help students with their English language.

“We also offer individual sessions, where students can talk about how they are going in their studies,” he said.

“Students come to us when they have problems with getting their assignments done.We get a lot of assignment drafts and feedback with the language.” he said.

Mr Ernst also believes each student should be responsible for their own learning.

“At university, people will not necessarily check on you and ask if you have everything you need, you need to take the initiative and be responsible,” he said.

Students at the University of Melbourne can also access programmes run by students for students, including Language Exchange club activities where students can practice English with native speakers.

RMIT University’s student ambassador Bradley Garcia says making  international students aware that support services are available to them is a priority for the university.

“The problem is actually making students aware it’s worth going up to a professional for academic support and advice,” he said.

“The MyMaster cheating scandal is just another consequence of students not being aware and having faith in the university’s provided services.”

He believes students should also learn to value their education.

“If you’re at university and you’re paying people to do your own essays and learning, why are you even at university at all?”

Universities take a strong stance against cheating 

Professor Margaret Sheil, the Provost at the University of Melbourne, says the university takes “any allegations of cheating seriously” and students are well aware of the consequences.

“We educate our students that penalties do apply when they cheat,” Professor Sheil said.