Parents and friends at risk of jail time over proposed university anti-cheating legislation

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Universities Australia has submitted a response over the proposed ‘contract cheating’ legislation.

Tertiary education professionals are worried that parents and friends of uni students could get caught up in strict anti-cheating laws proposed by education minister Dan Tehan.

Mr Tehan’s proposed laws could see those found guilty of cheating face criminal charges with consequences including two years in jail and fines of up to $210,000.

Peak sector body Universities Australia (UA) has come out with concerns that the loose definitions of what constitutes cheating could lead to well-meaning friends and family members being punished.

UA has submitted a challenge to the phrase “providing any part of a piece of work or assignment”.

UA’s Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said that the broad wording could lead to tutors, friends or family being persecuted under the laws.

We would not want someone’s Mum who proofreads an essay and suggests an addition to be inadvertently captured by these laws.

UA also questioned whether the phrasing could put students who do the “lion’s share” of work for group assignments caught up in the law’s ambiguity.

They also recommend that the penalties for cheating be a civil offence rather than a criminal one.

“It’s important to ensure the legislation that goes to Parliament later this year reflects the Government’s intention and wider community expectations,” Jackson said.

The legislation was proposed in April in an attempt to curb the trend of academic cheating in Australian universities.

"If you write another person’s university essay that’s cheating and you’re ripping off other hard-working students and also undermining our world-class education system,” Minister for Education Dan Tehan said at the time.

"We will make contract cheating a crime sending a very clear message that cheats do not prosper under the Morrison Government."

An investigation by The Feed uncovered contract cheaters that would charge anywhere between $3,500 to $5,000 to write students' essays for them or even sit their exams.

A Google search for phrases such as “take my exam for me” and “exam impersonator” provide tens of results for online providers of such services.

A 2017 survey by University of South Australia associate professor Tracey Bretag​ found that 6 per cent of Australian students engaged in cheating.

Mr Tehan intends to take the legislation to Parliament later in the year.

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