Third-level colleges need more funding to combat the multi-billion dollar global industry in academic cheating, the Oireachtas Education Committee has heard.
Ireland’s academic standards authority, Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), said it was among the areas for which recurrent annual funding and targeted initiatives were needed.
QQI Senior Strategic Adviser Dr Anna Murphy was addressing the latest in a series of committee hearings on the need for a sustainable funding model for higher education.
Further and Higher Education Minister Simon Harris is due to bring proposals to Government soon on a funding programme.
Dr Murphy said the overall level of funding for higher education impacted the quality of teaching and learning, student supports and research.
She said calls by the higher education sector for a sustainable funding model was supported by evidence from QQI work on quality assurance.
Dr Murphy referred to the various funding requirements of the sector, which included a need to support and maintain academic integrity which she said was “under threat from a multi-billion dollar, sophisticated, global industry of cheating”.
A sustained, multi-pronged, collaborative effort was needed “to support academic integrity, tackle cheating and the global cheating industry so that we maintain the quality, integrity and reputation of Irish higher education.”
She added that it was a concern for everyone, in the first instance all staff and students in higher education institutions.
The funding would underpin the significant steps already taken in Ireland to tackle the problem through the legislation to enable QQI to prosecute contract cheating – otherwise known as “essay mills”.
There is a growing national and international problem around the use of essay mills.
These see custom-written assignments, essays and theses sold to students who submit them as their own work.
Dr Murphy said the National Academic Integrity Network raised awareness, developed guidelines and resources and provided training to inform, alert and detect cheating and to promote academic integrity.
Now, she added, higher education institutions need funding to implement guidelines, to support all staff and students, gather data and provide dedicated resources, training and research in areas like detection and artificial intelligence.
“QQI strongly recommends that this be provided through the recurrent grant model and targeted initiatives so that all institutions are supported to embed academic integrity as an integral component of their institutional culture.”
Dr Andrew Brownlee, CEO of the State further education and training authority, Solas, told the committee that the issue of future funding for higher education could not be separated from the issue of support for further education and training (FET) and apprenticeship.
He said while Ireland’s high levels of higher education participation enhanced Ireland’s global reputation, there was now a case for a more balanced tertiary system with a greater role for further education and apprenticeships, in line with most other international systems.