LOVE LETTERS TO TANZANIA : Academic dishonesty is not a trivial matter

Friday September 01 2017

Throughout history, young adults’ resolve to advance society has often been a positive force of change. In pursuit of justice and equality, university students in particular have been instrumental in driving social progress, which advanced nations and humanity in general.

Growing competition for tertiary courses and the increasing commercialisation of education, however, deliver temptations for ambitious youngsters in higher education and provide a market for shrewd profiteers whose products and services cater for students prone to “academic dishonesty”.

Increasingly reliant on full-fee paying students, universities around the globe are struggling to implement effective policies which prevent corrupt student practices. Such practices include admission to courses via forged documents, cheating in entrance and language proficiency tests, purchasing assignments online, employing ghost writers, ruthless plagiarism and a range of creative ways of cheating in examinations. To call such deliberate, corrupt behaviours “academic dishonesty” is probably too sympathetic.

Universities struggle to foil students’ attempts to cheat as ghost writer services which sell made-to-order assignments to financially privileged students are proliferating fast.

Surprisingly, some academics attempt to defend the offenders. Studies into plagiarism say that tertiary students justify academic dishonesty by blaming stress, time pressure, high parental expectations and the fear of getting expelled if underperforming. In other words, taxpayers’ money is spent on studies which find excuses for youngsters who want to advance themselves by deception.

The immoral behaviours of students who can afford to pay others for assignments or purchase fake documents are reinforcing inequality in education. The unethical option to pay for essays only applies to students from financially advantaged backgrounds. Students on meagre scholarship payments or loans have to proceed as usual and develop a work ethic to succeed - or seek alternative pathways if they cannot pass their subjects.


Universities labour towards ways of effectively eliminating academic dishonesty, while time and funds could be better spent elsewhere - to enhance educational opportunities for all students. Tanzania’s tertiary institutions are no exception.

Improved access to technology makes cheating easier, and the criminals behind online cheating services wealthy. Universities’ anti-plagiarism software can detect attempts to submit old assignments written by previous students or copying and pasting form others’ work. It is more difficult though to catch students who buy assignments “made-to-order” from commercial writers.

Educators are slowly fortifying the barriers to plagiarism and ghost-writing by re-designing assessment practices, for instance abandoning essays written off-campus and increasing supervised components which involve drafting and feedback processes.

Some employers are seizing the opportunity to co-design authentic assessment tasks which reflect the kind of duties students would later perform in the workplace, e.g. working with real or potential clients in the student’s field of study or undertaking project based learning in teams with authentic products or outcomes. Business students might produce marketing campaigns in collaboration with industry mentors to promote real products or services; journalism students may share writing and editorial responsibilities for publications which cover the issues, events and opinions of their own university’s learning and teaching community.

Future employers and tertiary students benefit where such workplace relevant experience enhances participating students’ employability.

However, it cannot be left up to higher education institutions alone to promote awareness and prevent academic dishonesty. Cheating in an academic context needs to be seen as a legal as well as a moral issue.

Society cannot afford to let students get away with outsourcing their learning and citizens losing confidence in tertiary institutions. Employers should be able to trust that a degree has been earned, not bought. Underqualified fraudsters should find it much more difficult to gain rewards for deceitful behaviour and must be seen as what they are: cheats.