Plagiarism & Contract Cheating How robust is your assessment design?

Plagiarism and contract cheating

From a UK Higher Education (HE) perspective, what is and is not acceptable in terms of good academic practice, may differ from expectations of HE globally. With increasing mass participation in HE, as well as the globalisation of HE, what is meant by academic integrity needs to be clarified with our students.

What we embrace and encourage, is good academic practice. But what does it mean, how do we do this and where do we start? This resource is designed to support you in considering issues and develop solutions.

What is good academic practice?

Good academic practice is about making sure that anyone who reads your work can easily identify your thoughts and ideas on a subject, and can distinguish these from the thoughts and ideas of others.” (Open University, 2018:12)

And what then is academic misconduct?

When work fall short of good academic practice, academic misconduct becomes a reality:

Academic misconduct covers any attempt by a student to gain an unfair advantage in an assessment, whether coursework or exams, by unauthorised means. Examples of misconduct include collusion, copying, impersonation, falsification, deceit, plagiarism, cheating and assisting another student to do any of these practices. (CU, 2020)

What are examples of academic misconduct?

Plagiarism is intentionally or unintentionally reproducing (copying, rewording, paraphrasing, adapting, etc.) work that was produced by another person(s) without proper acknowledgment in an attempt to gain academic benefit. Intentionally or negligently allowing such reproduction to happen may also constitute plagiarism.” (CU, 2020)

Collusion refers to working too closely with one or more individuals to help solve and/or answer an assessed task or question, producing a joint answer or solution (intentionally or not) to gain an unfair advantage over other students. (Open University, 2018:25)

Contract cheating usually happens when students commission/use a third party to complete their assessed work on their behalf. Students then submit the commissioned work as if they have done it themselves. The third party can range from essay writing service, a friend/family/another student, to a private tutor/copy editing services/etc. (Clarke & Lancaster, 2006)

When we refer below to plagiarism, it includes collusion and contract cheating.

Designing out potential plagiarism

Designing out potential plagiarism - Plagiarism, collusion and contract cheating are complex issues that requires more than a reliance on policing and penalties, such as detection software or regulations and policies. It is important to understand that there are many contextual influences that lead to plagiarism collusion and contract cheating and assessment design can play a part in deterring students from plagiarism.

Designing out plagiarism at course/programme level

Foster (create) as supportive environment

At an early stage in the student journey we need to create opportunities for students to learn about academic integrity good academic practice. What is needed is to create a climate of involvement and interest with and amongst students even at a course level, and this has great potential to be more effective than a culture of detection and punishment. Such interventions should be part of preparing the students pre- and post-arrival.

Clear linking between formative and summative assessment

Formative assessment allow students to practice and gather feedback on their work. This requires a deliberate mapping of the students’ learning and assessment journey so that early, timely interventions for developing good academic practice skills can be implemented.

Designing out plagiarism at task (module) level
  • Design assessment tasks that requires students to use recent, up to date research/data.
  • Personalise the assessment
  • Assess the process (use a scaffolding approach)
  • Design assessment tasks that assesses higher levels of thinking
  • Incorporate non-written coursework or exams
  • Use a diverse range of assessment methods
  • Restrict the sources to be used in the assessment

Want to know more? Access a more detailed guide or listen to the short video guidance below.

See video with captions, MS Streams.

Exploring some assessment alternatives

Find here some examples of assessment types that may help mimimise plagiarism and or contract cheating.

Patchwork Assessment

Patchwork assessment can be by Portfolios developed over the run of the semester that allows for the assessment task to be broken down in short parts, allowing for formative feedback towards the end product. This also allows for checking authenticity and avoiding ghost writing. Portfolios can include a reflective journals and/or critical incident analysis.


Biographies allow the students to build up over time an annotated list of sources they plan to use, thus breaking down the task in manageable chunks. Autobiographies is another option and allows again for personalising the task.

Case studies

Case studies, considering real world problems, can be personalised by allowing a local focus, and allowing in particular the international student to bring their own personal context into the writing.

Poster Assessment

Poster assessment, accompanied by a brief presentation, allows for exploring with the student, what they have produced.

The more we think of designing authentic assessment, the more likely we can design assessment that not only have potential to minimise plagiarism and contract cheating, but also become more inclusive, thus level out the playing field for all students and may allow each individual student to achieve.

Where do I find the policy and regulations?

What if we are concerned about plagiarism and contract cheating?

No matter how well we design assessment or support and guide our students, we will not be able to completely avoid plagiarism, collusion or contract cheating.

Should you have to address these issues, clear guidance, protocols and reporting templates are available on the CU Registry Pages.

References and further reading

Created By
Hannelie du Plessis-Walker


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