New Law Would Make Helping College Students Cheat Punishable with Jail Time

A new law aims to crack down on "contract cheating"—when students use another person to finish assignments or even take exams for them—by handing offenders huge fines or even jail time. Opponents, though, worry it could penalize parents who just proofread their children's work.

The Australian government is drafting a new measure that would punish contract cheating services with up to two years in jail and $210,000 AUD (about $146,000) in fines. Education minister Dan Tehan says the law would punish those who exploit students.

"If you write another person's university essay, that's cheating and you're ripping off other hardworking students," Tehan told, "and also undermining our world-class education system."

test taking in university
A new measure being drafted by the Parliament of Australia would hand stiff fines and even jail time to those caught running "contract cheating" services. Getty

According to a 2018 study, 840 out of 14,000 students at eight Australian universities admitted to using a contract cheating service. A separate 2013 survey found international students were significantly more likely to employ contract cheating services—and less aware of rules about academic integrity processes.

The proposed measure would only target those who provide the cheating, not students caught using a service. It would not require money to be exchanged for something to be considered contract cheating.

Critics of the bill say the section declaring "providing any part of a piece of work or assignment" illegal is too vague. "If I say, 'Hey, it would be great if you reworded that sentence to be this other way,' is that providing cheating services?" Deakin University Associate Professor Phillip Dawson asked, in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

"If a student passes a note to another student in an exam or an older sibling offers to do the stats for their younger sibling's assignment, that shouldn't be a crime," Dawson added. "That should be something that universities' existing academic integrity procedures should deal with."

Catriona Jackson, the chief executive of the education-industry lobbying organization Universities Australia, agrees. She told ABC, "We're concerned that that might mean that, if you were a mum or a dad at home proofreading your kid's essay, [and] you say 'those three sentences don't work very well, how about you use this different sentence or this different construction or these different words?', that that kind of assistance might be captured."

Jackson says Universities Australia wants the language in the law "to have a little more attention before... they get to the very final version of the draft.

Columnist Angela Mollard counters that these concerns are unfounded.

"What are mum and dads doing helping university kids?" she asked on Seven Network's The Morning Show. "Yes while they were at school, a bit of proofreading, a bit of helping. But once you are at university you are an adult, you do the work yourself."