Student cheating services hard to stop

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 11:49 12/02/2014

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Nine months into an investigation of a wide-reaching cheating scandal, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) says students can and do use overseas-based cheating services.

Reporting to Parliament's education select committee, NZQA representatives told MPs New Zealand was one of the few countries that had legislation against provision of cheating services.

"We can address those that are based in New Zealand and we have the capacity to do that," chief executive Karen Poutasi said.

"We can't address those based overseas and they do exist overseas and students use them so the best protection is at the level of the institutions to detect use of cheating services."

NZQA and police launched an inquiry into an Auckland outfit called Assignment4U in May last year.

The company offered academic "solutions" to order via a Chinese language website operated from an office in central Auckland.

The office worked under the banner of a company called Ateama Ltd.

A Sunday Star-Times investigation, in which a Chinese-speaking reporter posed as a student needing an essay for her BA degree at the University of Canterbury , exposed how the operation delivered the essay three hours before it was due for $270 cash.

Nine months on, charges are yet to be laid, despite the two heads of the company, Penju Chen and Steven Quan Li, already having appeared in court.

The pair gave an undertaking not to engage in any activity to promote or supply cheating services, which contravened the Education Act.

The NZQA has since dropped an injunction application, but still hopes to bring charges against the company.

Under questioning from MPs, Poutasi said there was still a significant amount of information to process before a prosecution would be possible.

"We share the frustration," she said.

"But the police aided us when this came to our attention with a significant number of servers and paperwork.

"We've been working with the offshore arm of Assignment4U Ateama. So there's a large amount of material to be gone through and a large number of connections to be made for a successful prosecution."

She could not give a time frame, she said.

"If there is the possibility of bringing a prosecution – whether it's a civil or a criminal [one] – we will be aiming to do that".

"But we have to obviously assess the material and have valid material to come forward with, and that's what's taking the time."

Fairfax Media understands the investigation has had setbacks over translation issues and the sheer volume of files.

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