'Contract Cheating': an overview of perspectives (academic, student) exploring ways to detect and alleviate contract cheating, considering the roles of registry and technology
Adam Edwards, Library Liaison Manager
Sue Bailey, Deputy Academic Registrar; 
Venetia Brown, Director of Programmes - Post Qualifying Nursing, Child Health
Michael Jones Middlesex University Students' Union

Contract cheating, where students employ other people to complete a piece of work for them, is an increasing issue in UK higher education. This session will feature short presentations from University staff and MDXSU about the current situation. It aims to provide an overview for academic and professional staff of the main challenges for universities of essay mills and contract cheating and to start a discussion on ways in which it might be tackled at Middlesex.


Session summary:

The four presenters offered a valuable overview of this multi-faceted and complex form of plagiarism, i.e. students purchasing essays from third parties for a fee, variably known as ‘contract cheating’, ‘custom essays’, or ‘essay fraud’.

Adam Edwards, Library Liaison Manager at Middlesex, kicked off the session with an engaging and well-informed account of the key issues relating to ‘contract cheating’, both from the point of view of the university and of the student. For sure, this is not a new phenomenon, but a notable increase has been reported in the sector during the last 5 years. This kind of practice not only has a negative impact on the reputation of institutions, but most importantly can harm students, who often fall victims of blackmail. This happens when the third parties, who have taken up the commission to write up the essay, keep on asking for payments from the students by threatening them that their fraud will be reported to the university. What can be done? The way forward is strong collaboration between all university services, academic staff, and students, so that awareness is raised, new modes of assessment are implemented and training on academic integrity becomes more widespread. Of course, this is not just a local or even national issue but international. Adam informed us about the forthcoming “International Day of Action against Contract Cheating” on 18th October 2017 to which Middlesex University will be contributing by launching a campaign called MDX BeWise.

Sue Bailey offered an update about the University’s regulatory context. The relevant section of the University’s regulations for 2017-18 (section F, p. 68) has now been fully updated to take into account the varied cases of ‘contract cheating’. Sue regularly contributes her expertise to CAPE’s workshop on Academic Integrity, highly recommended to all staff. Similarly to Adam’s talk, Sue’s presentation highlighted the need for cross-university collaborative approaches to this issue.

Venitia Brown’s presentation aptly filled in the picture with the academic’s perspective on this matter. As Director of Programmes for Post Qualifying Nursing and Child Health, Venitia explained that her team works hard to prevent such forms of plagiarism because of the serious implications for professional programmes. Although assessment varies widely and oral examinations/presentations are quite common, still there might be cases of students attempting to cheat with their essay work. To prevent this, students are constantly reminded that in case they do so, their standing will be compromised because they will break the rules of their professional body, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, which has strict requirements regarding professionalism, trust and declarations of good character.

The session concluded with Michael Jones’s insightful presentation about the support that the Middlesex Student Union (MDXSU) offers to students on all matters regarding assessment: from help with explaining assessment briefs up to concerns about plagiarism and appeals. Last year MDXSU offered support on such matters to approximately 300 students. This is a considerable number indicating that assessment is a key concern for students. Michael highlighted the growing need for more concentrated efforts to support students not only with assessment literacy but also with making the Regulations more accessible.       

This well-attended session and the forthcoming ‘MDX Be Wise’ campaign are good signs that such efforts are taking a new shape to engage students and staff and to bring an end to unnecessary cases of academic misconduct.

For more details, please refer to the presenters’ slides above.
Report by Katerina Loukopoulou, Senior Academic Developer, CAPE

`If you were me and I were you`
Dr Doirean Wilson, Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management, Middlesex University London

A diversity awareness identity swap workshop that will focus on promoting greater understanding of today’s multiple identities in the classroom and the workplace as a means for nurturing respect for those of difference to boost learning outcomes and performance. 

Session resources:
Session summary:
This interactive diversity awareness workshop will provide participants with the opportunity to make use of an identity swap exercise, working in pairs (person `A` & person `B`), taking turns to select identity prompt cards of choice, to gain insight to what it’s like being someone of an identity that is different to their own from various real-life perspectives. This exercise recognises the benefits that can be gained by making use of diversity as a resource for promoting student success (conference strand), by acknowledging people differences to encourage inclusion and respect for all.

Globalisation and multiculturalism today is why communities are now rich with people of diverse cultures and ethnicities. This phenomenon is evident in schools, colleges and universities that now yield students (recognised as future business cadre), of, for example, multiple cultural identities, which is a concept that remains an enigma (Hall and Du Gay, 2003).

Although culture is a significant aspect of individual, group and societal identity, it is not the only one, as identification can relate to other descriptions such as intersectionality, cognitive diversity, job-role, social status, appearance, generations or responsibilities.

These identities can span the 9 Protected Characteristics of the UK Equality Act 2010 with regards to age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage & civil partnership, pregnancy & maternity, race, sex, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and beyond.

This Act places a duty on all public-sector organisations to:
  • eliminate discrimination
  • advance equality of opportunity and; 
  • foster good relations between people of different identities.
This in addition to recent world events such as the refugee crisis and Brexit, argues why it is even more pertinent for educators to know how to provide students with in-depth insights to different identities in the classroom, to enable them to know how to work more harmoniously and effectively with others of difference in the workplace.

This is crucial when considering that businesses are now under increasing pressure to demonstrate their ability to survive among the fittest in environments that are now more Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) than they once were, resulting in austerity measures, increased competition and financial constraints.
An ability to identify ways to teach learners of differing identities in times of uncertainty (conference theme), to learn and perform well, is a must.

Furthermore, as teachers’ we are accountable for ensuring that our students’ identity beliefs are also well founded (Haydon, 2006).