Cheat company faces court action

NZQA has filed court action against a Chinese-language website that allegedly offers a network of tutors to write essays for cheating university students.

The activities of Assignment4U were exposed by Fairfax NZ, which arranged to buy an essay from the company for $270.

The company's customers apparently included students attending a range of New Zealand universities, polytechnics and private institutions.

NZQA chief executive Dr Karen Poutasi said the action taken against Ateama, the company that owns Assignment4U, and the two individuals signalled a zero tolerance for providing or arranging commercial cheating services.

"The injunction application shows that issues of this nature are taken seriously by NZQA, particularly where they risk damage to New Zealand's strong reputation as an education destination," she said.

After the Sunday Star-Times broke three weeks ago, Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce said NZQA was launching an inquiry into the service following the investigation.

Joyce said the NZQA was anonymously tipped off three months earlier and took action to inform universities and polytechs.

He said it was now an "open question" whether NZQA's response had been adequate.

The revelation of the cheating service has serious repercussions for the New Zealand international education sector, which earns about $750 million a year from about 93,000 students. China is New Zealand's biggest education market, last year accounting for 27 per cent of this country's international students.

An Assignment4U spokesman said at the time that the company provided only face-to-face tutoring and counselling. It supplied students with "examples" or "solutions" on academic assignment questions but made it clear the student could "not hand it in" because the company retained copyright. The examples helped with ideas and structure, he said.

No such warning was provided to the fictitious student used by the Star-Times and the company provided its "solution" just three hours before the indicated deadline.

Poutasi said NZQA's legal action follows work with police to execute a search warrant on the company's and other premises.

Evidence obtained from the search warrant and other sources was being assessed as part of an ongoing investigation.

"There is a vast amount of information that has been collected and is in the process of being analysed," she said.

"Where there is evidence of cheating and assessment fraud under the Education Act, it is likely there will be further legal action taken.

"By far the majority of education providers in New Zealand are good providers that deliver good education outcomes for local and international students.

"Those institutions support the action we are taking to ensure the integrity and credibility of tertiary education and qualifications."

The interim injunction is to be heard at 10am tomorrow in the High Court at Auckland.

The Dominion Post