Students enlist website to write essays, assignmentsStudents buying assignments online could be charged with fraudWho is Yingying Dou, the mastermind behind the site
Inflated tuition fees, inadequate English skills and crippling family expectations are the most likely reasons international university students are engaging ghost essay writers, experts in international education say.
The MyMaster website, which is at the centre of a major cheating enterprise at Australian universities exposed by Fairfax Media, is understood to be used almost exclusively by students from China.
A flyer posted on the back of a toilet door at UTS gives insight to the anxiety among students.
“Are you racking your brains on your school work? Do you worry about spending $3000 retaking tuition on a failing subject? Leave your worries to MyMaster and make your study easier!” says the flyer in translation.
Numerous attempts to contact students who have used the service were unsuccessful.
But leading academics say the extraordinary fees international students pay – often between $30,000 and $40,000 a year – means studying at an Australian university is a high-stakes game.
“There’s often enormous family pressure on these students to do well,” Andrew Norton, the higher education program director at the Grattan Institute, said.
“I’ve heard horrible stories about extended families collectively supporting students in Australia, so the pressure they must feel as a result of these expectations is just enormous.”
He said cultural differences could also be relevant.
“In some countries, corruption is just widespread and people don’t view it the same way it’s viewed in Australia,” he said.
The University of Sydney’s advice on teaching international students warns they have “a significant risk of unintentionally plagiarising or failing to comply with academic honesty expectations”.
China now has by far the biggest share of Australia’s international students, at more than a quarter, and only 18 per cent of all international students come from countries where English is the first language.
But the University of Adelaide’s Michelle Picard, an expert in academic integrity and cultural competency, said the problem is often a lack of confidence in using English, rather than inability.
“I think the fear element is the strongest one,” Dr Picard said. “Sometimes they do have severe language difficulties or cultural change difficulties – but more often it’s their lack of confidence.”
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