International students targeted and exploited by predatory essay writing businesses
Thursday, 17 January, 2019
- Businesses create fake university offers and confirmation of enrolment to enter spaces reserved for new students
- PARSA and Canberra Circle call for new students to beware the traps and use services like PARSA and the Academic Skills and Learning Centre if they are struggling, or have been approached
In recent years, assignment and essay writing businesses have expanded into Canberra and have been growing aggressively. Such companies provide services to write essays and assignments on behalf of students, ‘guaranteeing’ top scores.
The businesses target international students in Canberra, especially those who are concerned about failing courses or receiving unacceptably low grades. Some students even develop a dependence on said services to pass their assignments and exams.
Businesses specifically target Chinese students, using the popular social media platform WeChat to reach out to new students. As the most prevalent social media medium in China, WeChat hosts a suite of social functions, with WeChat groups providing features similar to Facebook messenger groups.
On the 13th of November 2018, a WeChat platform named Canberra Circle launched an academic integrity campaign in a WeChat group with 500 members to support students commencing study in Canberra in February 2019. The campaign unveiled and banned 13 essay writing agent accounts that were pretending to be incoming students, according to Yuan Chai, International Officer at the ANU Postgraduate and Research Students’ Association and the Director of Canberra Circle.
Essay writing businesses adopt a variety of marketing methods to attract student clients. Not only do they pretend to be new students and sneak into groups, they also send large amount of spam emails to students, frequently to their university email addresses.
These illegal businesses usually have large marketing budgets due to the excessive profitability of the industry. Apart from the WeChat approach, they also cooperate with restaurants, education institutions, and advertising platforms to promote their services.
Meanwhile, students receive no protection from the services. For example, many international students may not be aware that essay writing services, as opposed to tutoring support services, are against University policy and may jeopardise their studies if discovered. By using these services, students are risking their own future and relying on exploitative strangers.
Yuan Chai, PARSA International Officer and Director of Canberra Circle, said:
“We maintain a good relationship with the students, and we warn them of this suspicious behaviour of friending and messaging, however, as our investigation methods improve, the methods of disguise of the essay writing agents are evolving as well.
“Sometimes, they [essay writing agents] will release the advertisements as soon as they join the group, in the knowledge that they will be removed immediately. Since the chat history cannot be deleted, the information will have been seen by every group member even after they have been removed. That way, students seeking their services will still be able to find them.”
“The worst part is, those illegal companies are creating an environment in which new students would consider purchasing essay writing services a social norm of their overseas study experience. If the majority of students are paying for such services, resisting it will result in a disadvantage to one’s grades. In fact, there were a large amount of students who used essay writing services and got away without being busted or receiving any punishment.
“Most importantly, many students, who actually put effort into their studies cannot achieve the same academic grades as the students who pay for their assignments, which will in turn greatly damage their understanding of academic integrity.”
Zyl Hovenga-Wauchope, PARSA President, said:
“For a number of years, we have been aware that these business have been preying on our community, and becoming more and more adept at ensuring that they are reaching their target market.
“While more experienced students are more able to differentiate between legitimate businesses and exploitative initiatives, new students are vulnerable to their techniques. With a stay of only two years at a time, the postgraduate student community makes easy prey.
“PARSA would like students to know that there is academic help out there if they are struggling with their classes, and that we want students to report their experiences if they have been approached.”
PARSA expresses serious concern about the loss of the number 3 bus route
Wednesday, 24 October, 2018
Amidst significant student feedback about the finalised ACT bus routes for 2019, PARSA expresses serious concern about the loss of the number 3 bus route through the ANU campus and calls on the ACT Government to engage in good faith consultation with the community.
On Tuesday 16 October, the ACT Government released the finalised bus routes for 2019 and, despite 45% of students expressing concerns with the proposed new network in the consultation stage, has removed the number 3 route. According to the ACT Government report on their community consultation, the loss of the number 3 was a key concern for both students and residents of the inner north. This decision shows a clear disregard for the needs of postgraduate students, who overwhelmingly rely on public transport to run basic errands and are less likely than the general public to have access to a car as an alternative.
This is a decision that particularly affects students with disabilities and mobility issues, students living in self-catered accommodation, financially disadvantaged students who cannot afford a car, international students (who are overwhelmingly postgraduate students), as well as students with safety concerns like female and LGBTIQA+ students who are vulnerable to sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus.
In addition to the considerable safety concerns the elimination of the number 3 bus will impact the day to day lives of students, whose access to basic facilities will be limited. Students who rely on public transport for running basic errands such as grocery shopping or a late-night chemist will have to walk up to a kilometre further to access these basic services.
The lack of accessible transport is a particular issue for students needing to access medical care, especially for those with a disability or chronic illness who need to travel to one of the two major Canberra hospitals, both of which lie on the current number 3 bus route. The ACT Transport Minister Meegan Fitzharris (who is also the Minister for Higher Education) has claimed that accessible transport is vital for enabling social inclusion and community participation. However, accessibility is not solely related to having wheelchair accessible buses; it is about having routes that meet the needs of the community.
There are significant safety concerns with the removal of the number 3 bus route. With the Australian Human Rights Commission report into sexual assault and sexual harassment finding in 2016 that 3.5% of respondents were sexually assaulted on campus (double the national average), and more than a third of respondents were sexually harassed on campus, making the campus less accessible is a blatant disregard of the needs of some of the ACT’s most vulnerable residents. Students residing on campus will no longer have safe, reliable and affordable transport home.
This change will also affect international students who live in the Belconnen and Woden areas, many of whom rely solely on public transportation, in particular the number 3 bus. Route 3 is the only route that currently travels across the campus, and is frequented by many international students. Route 3 not only services those students who live in close proximity to its current service, but is relied upon for transfers by students when they arrive at the city bus station on other routes. The alternative is a half-hour walk from the city bus station to the medical, physics, or Asia and the Pacific departments. International students who reside on campus also rely on the number 3 bus for urgent transportation to hospital, as ambulance services are expensive and can be intimidating.
It is completely unacceptable for the ACT Government to ignore significant community concerns and build further barriers to accessibility for already vulnerable students. PARSA calls on the ACT Government to review their decision to remove the number 3 bus route, by either reinstating it or replacing it with an alternative that adequately meets the needs of the community.
Postgraduate Students Going without Necessities and Skipping Class to Earn Enough to Survive
- Nearly 12% of postgraduate coursework students, and over 9% of higher degree by research students regularly go without food or necessities
- Over 25% of indigenous postgraduate students regularly go without food or necessities
- Nearly 40% of postgraduate coursework students and over 30% of higher degree by research students have estimated income less than their estimated expenses
2017 Universities Australia Student Finances Survey found that over 50% of postgraduate students worry about their finances.
Of particular concern is the situation of indigenous students, with 28.5% of indigenous postgraduate higher degree by research students regularly going without food or necessities because they cannot afford them.
According to the report, international postgraduate coursework and higher degree by research students in 2017 reported lower total income than full-time domestic students.
There was also a notable substantial decrease in the median income for international postgraduate coursework students, from $33,700 in 2012 to $21,900 in 2017.
Government allowances were the second main source of income for domestic postgraduate coursework students, with over 18% receiving Austudy, Youth Allowance or Abstudy. Only 16 out of the over 150 postgraduate coursework programs provided at the ANU are accredited for student assistance, which means that most ANU postgraduate coursework students are having to balance challenging studies and work in order to meet their basic needs.
Domestic postgraduate coursework students acquire most of their income from paid employment, with almost 88% receiving a median income of $43,800 for domestic students, and $15,600 for international students.
Despite the fact that more than 56% of domestic higher degree by research students receive scholarships, stipends or bursaries, 80% still engage in paid employment, showing that bursaries are also not enough to meet the needs of higher degree by research students.
The report also relayed the troubling stories of particularly international postgraduate students expressing shame over their reliance on family, and their preference for going without meals rather than demeaning themselves by continuing to take support from others. Additionally, it is clear that international postgraduate students are unable to afford basic medical costs, and are avoiding crucial care, both physical and mental.
Alyssa Shaw, PARSA President, said:
“This report says what PARSA has always known: that stereotypes that postgraduate students are financially secure are damaging and misleading. Many postgraduate students, both domestic and international, are experiencing financial hardship in Canberra, skipping meals and not accessing other essential services like healthcare, because they simply cannot fit into a meagre budget. Skyrocketing rental costs, with this year seeing Canberra take second place in the country in apartment rents, serve to ensure ANU students are consumed by the high cost of living.
“Not only are postgraduate domestic students less likely to be entitled to Centrelink payments, it’s clear that they are insufficient to cover basic costs. The government should consider allowing more postgraduate students to claim Centrelink, and the rates of these payments must be increased to reflect the real costs of living to ensure that students are able to achieve at university.”
Note to editors:
PARSA provides a range of services aimed at providing support for the specific needs of postgraduate students in relation to both their studies and daily life.
These services include face-to-face consultation with our legal team, student assistance team and access to a range of grants to meet the immediate financial needs of students.
To access these services, please visit the PARSA office, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (02) 6125 4187.
For more information about the specific programs and initiatives, please see the PARSA website: https://parsa.anu.edu.au/studentsupport/.