Inequality and trust sit the test

Sydney Morning Herald:

If you search ”buy an essay” on Google a multitude of websites will pop up offering stress-free ways to complete a looming assignment.

They promise teams of ”experienced writers” on hand to write your essay – some even offer a money-back guarantee if you’re not satisfied. The going rate seems to be about $US10 a page, although express services that promise essays in a few hours can cost three or four times that. One website that caught my attention audaciously claimed a focus was ”on professionalism, integrity and honesty”. Its heartwarming goal was to ”make your academic life joyful and easier”.

Internet offers like this have made cheating easier than ever for students. Web-assisted academic dishonesty poses a major threat to the credibility of universities, and academies the world over are struggling to find cost-effective ways to identify those trying to pass the work of others off as their own. Many university teachers now rely on plagiarism-detection software to automatically check student papers. A spokesman for the University of Sydney, one of Australia’s biggest, said the ”wealth of online resources available to students, combined with the growth in electronic detection systems, has meant that universities have had to adapt their policies and practices in assessing and marking”.

Now there are claims that economy-wide forces are influencing student dishonesty. Researcher Lukas Neville, from Queen’s University in Ontario, says students are more likely to cheat in areas of high economic inequality.

The inspiration for Neville’s study, published in the journal Psychological Science, was his own university teaching experience. ”I ran into the question of academic dishonesty firsthand,” he said. This got him thinking about the underlying influences that promote, or inhibit, student dishonesty. Neville had a hunch it had to do with trust. If students don’t trust each other, some of them might think they have to cheat to keep up with their unscrupulous classmates. And, as other research has shown, this kind of distrust is often found in places where income inequality is high.

Read the whole story: Sydney Morning Herald

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