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© Neena Bhandari, Indo Asian News Service

ImageSydney, July 4 (IANS) It is not just companies sending work offshore, computer science students in Australia are outsourcing assignments to programmers in India and other countries.

Students are willing to shell out anything between A$100 and several hundred dollars for assignments put to tender on websites, where coders bid based on the time and effort required to complete the task.

For unwilling students, not wanting to do their homework, sites such as RentACoder and Kasamba maintaining a network of low-cost coders around the world, have proved a boon.

"Yes, we are aware that some of our assignments have been posted to these sites and we have identified some individual students and applied sanctions through the university's misconduct policies and processes," Professor David Wilson, Dean, Department of Information Technology at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS), told IANS.

"At UTS, we are aware of the issue but this form of misconduct poses two problems. First, it is very difficult to detect - most of the students posting to these sites use alias e-mail contact addresses; secondly, even if we have suspicions, it is very difficult to bring a misconduct case under the burden of proof required under the university's misconduct policies and processes", Prof. Wilson said.

So how are Australian universities bracing to curb this practice? Prof Wilson suggests that one solution to this growing problem is to return to invigilated examinations only.

"The usual forms of misconduct - copying from another student or copying from an unacknowledged third party - are relatively easy to prove as we have the accused student's submission and the copied source - this is not the case when the assignment work is contracted out", he added.

With education costs rising, for many students outsourcing is one way of ensuring success in the first attempt. "Students are nearly always motivated (to outsource their assignments) by fear of failure exacerbated by cost of study and the unplanned cost of having to undertake, and pay again, a failed subject", Prof Wilson added.

In the internet age, there is always the temptation to cut and paste assignments. If several students copy passages from the same site, for example essays and other written work sold on well established sites, then it is easy to detect, but with code, it is far more difficult to find out if the work has been outsourced.

"The rent-a-coder stuff is almost impossible to pick up. If the coder provides the same solution to a few students we'll catch them via plagiarism detection but if they only provide it to one student you essentially can't catch them." Professor Paul Compton, Head of the School of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of New South Wales told IANS.

Students using alias and different email addresses are making the job even more difficult for universities to catch them. As Prof. Compton said, "Over the last two years, there have been two such cases. But is this a growing trend, we don't know."

Prof Compton suggested that one way of curbing this practice is to make exams a significant component of evaluation rather than putting too much emphasis on take-home assignments.

"In the examination, we include questions that test their knowledge of the assignment. Unless they have learnt the actual programming skills, they will not be able to demonstrate it," Prof Compton said.

Outsourcing homework is a growing trend, which is here to stay, and universities will have to brace their defences to ensure degrees are imparted to the deserving.

© Copyright Neena Bhandari. All rights reserved. Republication, copying or using information from any content is expressly prohibited without  the permission of the writer and the news agency through which the article is syndicated.  

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