Mymaster Essays

The University of Newcastle - the only institution to have mostly finalised its internal investigation into the scandal - confirmed it had expelled two students and suspended a further eight for using the MyMaster service. A total of 31 students were found to have breached the university's academic misconduct protocol, deputy vice-chancellor Andrew Parfitt said. All of them were international students based at the University of Newcastle's Sydney campus.

When the cheating allegations were put to them, "the vast majority of students" admitted to buying their assignments and "expressed regret," Professor Parfitt said.

Among them, 24 students received a fail grade for courses completed in 2014 - a penalty that was applied 51 times, indicating some students had bought their assignments for multiple courses.

Those students were suspended or expelled.

The two expelled students had used the MyMaster service four or five times, or had previous misconduct breaches on their record, he said.

"I think we've always known there are various forms students use for cheating. But we have a very strong process in place here."

Professor Parfitt said the university was still pursuing a number of former students who had not responded to the cheating allegations. Those who graduated last year risked having their degrees revoked.

Four months after the cheating scandal was uncovered, the four other worst-affected universities - Macquarie University, University of Technology Sydney, University of Sydneyand University of NSW - have told Fairfax Media that their internal investigations are still under way, but a number of students had been identified.

All universities, except UNSW, listed expulsion as the maximum possible penalty for students found to have breached academic protocol in their dealings with MyMaster. At UNSW, the maximum penalty is 18 months' suspension from the university. All universities contacted by Fairfax Media said no penalties would be imposed until all appeal processes had been exhausted.

Macquarie University - the worst-affected university with students logging 128 requests for work in 2014 - confirmed 43 "current and former students" had been asked to attend disciplinary committee hearings to explain how their names were among the files held on the MyMaster website.

Professor John Simons, deputy vice-chancellor of Macquarie University, said the university had commissioned an independent investigation to audit the data provided by Fairfax Media and would "leave no stone unturned in establishing whether or not cheating had occurred".

"Some of these students may be completely innocently mentioned [in the Fairfax data]. This is for the disciplinary process to uncover," he said.

A spokeswoman for the University of NSW said 19 students had been issued with "notices of allegation" in relation to 18 assignments, after plagiarism detection software had matched copies of the purchased assignments with those handed in by the students last year.

A further 11 students are under investigation at the University of Technology, Sydney, deputy vice-chancellor Shirley Alexander confirmed. Attempts were also being made to identify students in connection with 53 assignments that had been purchased using fake names.

Three students at the University of Sydney are also being investigated.

During the course of Fairfax Media's investigation, it was revealed the MyMaster company had received more than 700 requests for work from NSW university students and turned over more than $160,000 in 2014, with some students paying up to $1000 for an assignment.

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Lisa Visentin is an urban affairs reporter based in Sydney. She has previously worked covering courts and in federal parliament.

"Are you racking your brains on your school work? Do you worry about spending $3000 retaking tuition on the failing subject? Leave your worries to MyMaster and make your study easier!" the flyer says in translation.

Fairfax Media has seen 700 receipts for direct deposits to the MyMaster bank account, totalling more than $160,000 this year alone - a conservative estimate of the company's annual income, as students can also pay by cash or PayPal.

Payments range from $13 to $1050 and during busy assessment periods the website receives up to 20 requests a day.

One request lodged was for a 6000-word research assignment for a human rights law course at the University of NSW, which was worth 70 per cent of the student's overall grade.

The cheating is widespread throughout the state's university system, with almost 1000 assignments produced this year for students studying courses as diverse as philosophy, economics, law, engineering, astronomy and marketing.

One student spent more than $1500 on assignments for five different courses at the University of Newcastle's Business School. Another student from the University of Wollongong paid for at least eight assignments.

The University of Sydney, the state's premier institution, was among the most widely affected, with cheating spread across multiple faculties. During 2014, students from at least 37 of the university's courses used the service.

The entrepreneur, Yingying Dou, went to high school at Pittwater House, a private school in Collaroy on Sydney's northern beaches, and studied accounting at Macquarie University.

When approached by Fairfax Media, Ms Dou, who runs a university tutoring company called Yingcredible, would not comment on the MyMaster website.

"If you're talking about MyMaster, I have nothing to talk [about]," she said. "No comment for today."

Records show MyMaster and Yingcredible Tutoring are registered to the same principal place of business in Sussex Street in Chinatown. Ms Dou is also the registrant of the mymaster.com.au website domain.

Within hours of Fairfax Media approaching Ms Dou, the MyMaster website was taken down.

A postgraduate finance student at Macquarie University said the practice of buying assignments online was widespread. On two separate occasions while he was working on a group assignment, international students in the group suggested they purchase the assignment online, rather than do the work themselves.

"I was not keen on that idea. I think people just want to do whatever they can to pass the course at all costs," he said.

Assignment prices are advertised as a flat rate based on the number of words and the student's level of qualification, with masters students paying more for assignments than undergraduate or diploma. The flat rates promise students a pass or credit grade, but they can negotiate a price for work that is of a distinction or high distinction quality.

MyMaster recruits its writers on Chinese social media sites, promising good rates and an end-of-year bonus.

In addition to essays, MyMaster customers have paid for business reports, speeches, powerpoint presentations and

Some students uploaded instructions for their ghost writer, explicitly detailing how they wanted their assignment to be completed.

They are guaranteed the purchased work is original and will not be detected by the universities' plagiarism software.

Fairfax Media is aware of numerous websites offering similar services to students in Australia but most appear to be located offshore.

Australia's international student market is a $15 billion industry and the country's largest export after iron ore, coal and gold. International students, who often pay more than three times as much as locals for their degrees, generate a quarter of the annual income at some Australian universities.

Key interstate universities have also been ensnared in the scandal including RMIT, La Trobe University, Curtin University and the Queensland University of Technology.

The chief executive of Universities Australia, Belinda Robinson, said universities were aware of operations like MyMaster looking to exploit "a small minority of students seeking an easy path to success".

"Students caught deliberately attempting to pass others' work off as their own can be subject to harsh sanctions, up to and including automatic failure of courses and, ultimately, expulsion from the university," she said.

Do you know more? amcneilage@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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