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Misconduct early in an academic career

Daniel BuenoVice Chancellor of the University of Sydney Michael Spence has created a task force, which he himself will coordinate, to review strategies for preventing academic misconduct by that institution’s undergraduate students. His decision was in response to one of the biggest scandals ever recorded involving fraud during the initial years of academic training. More than 1,000 students at 16 Australian universities had retained the services of the website MyMaster that charged as much as 1,000 Australian dollars, equivalent to R$2,300, to write their academic papers, reports, or PowerPoint presentations and to provide answers to online exam questions. The case was discovered by Fairfax Media, a network of newspapers, magazines, and radio broadcasters. That firm had gained access to 700 deposit receipts in MyMaster’s bank account that totaled AUD 160,000 in 2014 alone.

While four other Australian universities—Newcastle, Macquarie, Sydney Technology, and NWS—had already caught students who were using the fraudulent service with the help of Turnitin anti-plagiarism software, the University of Sydney, the country’s oldest and one of its most respected universities, had proved unable to detect such activity. In November 2014, Fairfax Media submitted to the university 40 fraudulent academic papers that had been commissioned by its students, but only five students were identified in an internal investigation. “Our evaluation procedures were designed to minimize the possibility for misconduct, but new technologies have created innovative ways to commit fraud, and a small number of students persist in using them,” Spence told The Sydney Morning Herald. “We are going to consider new ways to detect plagiarism and fraud and change our evaluation procedures to reduce the chance that students will be dishonest so that we can promote a culture that values research integrity.”

The MyMaster website began operations in 2012 and publicized its services in university restrooms and on social networks. Students would place orders on the website and provide the content and references that needed to appear in the work. They paid 50% of the fee as down payment. The order was forwarded to ghostwriters, who delivered only half of the project. Users who were satisfied with the result would then pay the other half of the fee to receive the complete project. The website disappeared from the Internet following discovery of the scandal.