The devil’s in the detail – counting unique and organic contract cheating sites targeting higher education students in the UAE as a call to delegitimize them
International Journal for Educational Integrity
When considering a paradigm shift in higher education, it is imperative to focus on removing obstacles against maintaining integrity in academia. One such obstacle is contract cheating sites that have mushroomed disproportionately during the 18 months of emergency distance learning threatening graduate quality and university reputations (McKie, Essay mills targeting students as pandemic crisis shifts HE online, 2020). It was sharply brought to focus in 2015 due to a mass-scale scandal involving 16 universities and more than 1000 students leading to a subsequent law making such services illegal in Australia. Contract cheating is a mushrooming industry that is constantly targeting often unsuspecting students under the guise of legitimate help. Moreover, these services in turn began black mailing students after delivering services (Draper et al., Int J Educ Integr 17:13, 2021). It is therefore vital to explore the existence and number of such websites that target students in UAE, sometimes using university logos to show legitimacy to understand the extent of the problem. This is primarily because an accurate measure of the extent does not currently exist (Newton, Front Educ 3:67, 2018). Curtis et al. (Stud High Educ. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2021.1972093, 2021) have reported on self-reported cases from students which can be varied and often under-reported. This study is an attempt at using Boolean search technique to count unique and organic websites that have manifested. Coded analysis was used to collate the websites and count the total number of searches. For a total of 34 unique and organic websites, 29 showed a z score higher than the mean value 2.94, at standard deviation of 1.89, positing that the probability of appearance of these 29 websites across different search engines, different browsers and across separate search keywords was significant. This demonstrates the aggressive nature of these sites and their considerable efforts to offer a service that is harmful and detrimental to the students and education sector. This study is a milestone towards developing a nation-wide understanding of contract cheating in the UAE. It is also positioned as a proposal for higher education sustainability in the nation to look to ban services that offer to write assignments for students with or without a fee as a top-down approach to tackling the issue.
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Department of Education and Knowledge