Why test mills should be banned in Wales as well as England

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Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash

Huw Evans, senior lecturer at Cardiff Metropolitan University

The British government announced that “test mills” were to be made illegal in England. This article argues that something similar should be done in Wales.

A “trial mill” refers to a company from which a person can purchase an original commissioned work, a trial such as an essay to meet specific buyer’s requirements (for example, to meet criteria regarding the content and number of words). So, in an academic context, a student who purchases work in this way can then submit it and pass it off as their own original work dishonestly.

Submission of work in this manner will constitute an unfair practice and, if proven, result in penalties which, in extremis, may mean that a person is disqualified from obtaining a qualification.

It is standard practice when submitting academic assessments for work to be submitted through software (such as Turnitin) to verify the similarity of the work to previously submitted work. While not perfect, the software is generally effective and if it identifies previously unrecognized published work, this may provide the basis for an allegation of unfair practice.

But where the work has been directly commissioned by a student, the software is useless because the work has not been previously “published”.

This is not to say that a case cannot be established against a student for submitting a work in this manner – for example, when it is a reasonable inference to explain the difference between that work and a work. accepted as his own work – but this can be clearly problematic.

If you don’t stop it completely, making the practice illegal can be a clear incentive to reduce it.

Calculated

For a variety of reasons, the integrity of a certification system is essential for the public to trust it. Therefore, the announcement by the British government to make this practice illegal in England is, in principle, welcome.

It may surprise some, however, that the practice is not already illegal. It has been described as academic fraud, but legally it does not amount to fraud. One of the ways in which fraud can be committed under the Fraud Act of 2006 is fraud by dishonest representation whereby a person realizes a gain (section 2). Passing off someone else’s work for someone else’s own work is dishonest representation for gain, but unfortunately the fraud law does not bite because “gain” is linked to financial gain. direct.

In this case, the direct gain is not financial – for example, if it is a question of obtaining a passing grade – although, of course, it may indirectly lead to a long-term financial gain through the obtaining a (better) qualification.

Actual fraud and this form of unfair academic practice are comparable because they both involve a calculated and dishonest effort on the part of a person to unfairly gain material and significant advantage. It cannot reasonably be argued that fraud should not be criminalized. It is certainly not unreasonable to argue that the activity of “trial mill” should also be criminalized.

Integrity

An attempt was made to make the practice illegal in early 2021 by MP Chris Skidmore, who introduced a private member’s bill, the Essay Mills (Prohibition) Bill. The bill was not passed, but by making its announcement the UK government was clearly persuaded to get things done in England.

And this will be done by introducing an amendment to the Post-16 Skills and Education Bill currently before the UK Parliament. The reason the proposed legislation will not apply in Wales is, presumably, because education is decentralized.

While it is deemed necessary that the change of law is necessary in England, at first glance it is also necessary for Wales. Although decentralized, the post-16 education systems in England and Wales have more structural similarities than differences. Something that has been identified as affecting the academic integrity of the system in England is certainly relevant to that integrity in Wales as well.

Academic integrity is not a political party issue and the idea of ​​proposing something similar in Wales should, if not already, be immediately considered by the Welsh government. It is also assumed that it would be non-contentious and would have the support of all parties and the public.


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