Canberra university students have been implicated in the MyMaster Chinese online essay-writing scandal with a website offering to write essays for a fee operating in the ACT market.
The Chinese language website, Canberra Professional Copywriting, is advertised on the tutoring business website Yingcredible, which is run by MyMaster director Yingying Dou.
The MyMaster website has been pulled down after a Fairfax Media investigation uncovered the sophisticated online business – which is run out of Sydney's Chinatown and has infiltrated NSW institutions. MyMaster has produced thousands of university assignments and turned over hundreds of thousands of dollars since it began operating in May 2012.
Thousands of Sydney students have paid up to $1000 for the service, which promises to deliver essays to students' specification and unidentifiable to academic authorities.
The Canberra website targets students across the Australian National University, Bruce, Belconnen, UniLodge, Turner and Braddon.
It also boasts "team members are from various schools in Australia, Australian National University, University of Sydney, University of Melbourne, University of Queensland, University of Adelaide".
The website promises to prepare assignments across the subjects of business, science, engineering, IT, and "all other professions".
"High quality and low prices ... 100 per cent guarantee high satisfaction after the payment," it says.
It is not known how established the scheme has become in the ACT. The Canberra contact listed on Professional Copywriting, "Roy", did not return calls on Wednesday.
The ANU said it was investigating the website.
"This has been rising global issue over the past decade and one that the university takes seriously and has been carefully monitoring," a spokeswoman said. "ANU does all it can to address the issue, including use of technology to monitor for plagiarism and educating students about the requirements of academic integrity and serious consequences of breaches."
These consequences range from counselling to exclusion from completing a degree.
"Students submitting any work are required to formally confirm with their signature that the work is entirely their own. If plagiarism is detected, students are subject to disciplinary proceedings," the spokeswoman said.
The university also took very seriously the impact on its reputation of the website claiming to use ANU alumni to provide essay-writing services.
The University of Canberra's deputy vice-chancellor education, Professor Nick Klomp, said these sorts of websites popped up and disappeared regularly and academics were well aware of their existence.
Last year, Professor Klomp investigated 153 reports of plagiarism at the University of Canberra - 148 of which were substantiated.
"But in the context that across the university 300,000 assignments were submitted that is less than 0.05 per cent. The vast majority of students are doing the right thing."
If a student was caught cheating, they failed the unit. Repeat offenders were excluded from finishing their degree, Professor Klomp said.
"The first thing we do is educate students about their responsibilities through our academic integrity module."
The university also used Urkund anti-plagiarism software.
"Generally, we make it hard to cheat - we set assignments that require localised knowledge or reference lecture material."
Professor Klomp warned students not to believe the claims used on websites such as Canberra Professional Copywriting and he revealed that while he was working at another university, he had been contacted by two separate essay-writing outfits disclosing two students had used their services but not paid the bill.
"These outfits are completely shonky and it's simply extortion," he said.
"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.
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