University of Northampton enters partnership to stamp out contract cheating

Date 20.03.2018

As the education sector battles to outmanoeuvre cash-for-essay businesses targeting students, the University of Northampton is working with Turnitin on their new capability in the fight against assignment ghostwriters.

The University’s partnership with Turnitin will support the development of a solution to tackle contract cheating – also known as ghostwriting or commissioning.

Contract cheating involves students commissioning third parties to write their assignments for them. There are hundreds of companies and individuals in the UK and abroad offering ‘writing services’ – and thousands of students are believed to be submitting these essays as their own work.

Turnitin’s forthcoming software, Authorship Investigation, will support universities and colleges in identifying and investigating potential incidences of contract-cheating.

It will analyse the writing styles of individual students and flag up content which shows significant divergence from their previous work. The University of Northampton, along with a small number of other universities worldwide, has been brought in to support its development by participating in the beta-testing programme to suggest additions and improvements and help smooth any rough edges.

Dr Robin Crockett, Reader in Data Analysis in the University’s Faculty of Arts, Science & Technology, is leading a team of Academic Integrity Officers who will be using the software in the background to assess its capabilities in supporting their investigations of student work that is suspected of contract cheating.

Dr Crockett has used similar techniques to that used by the Authorship Investigation software to support a number of contract cheating investigations at the University of Northampton in the past few years, and has an early stage research programme in this area.

Dr Crockett said: “Across the Higher Education sector, there is growing concern over contract cheating. In recent years there has been a rapid increase in the number of providers – so-called essay-mills. It is a growth industry, although not a positive one, and an increasing academic-integrity problem in Higher Education. This is something we need to combat now, and the new partnership to support the development of Authorship Investigation brings together our experience on the ground with Turnitin’s 20 years of plagiarism prevention expertise.”

Bill Loller, Vice President of Product Management at Turnitin, said: “Our university partners, including the University of Northampton, are playing an integral role in our product development through conceptualisation, research, user experience and beta testing. Their guidance helps ensure that Authorship Investigation will support academia in addressing the growing challenge of contract cheating.”