THE University of Newcastle has expelled two students and suspended a further eight after its investigation into a widespread cheating scandal centred on an online essay writing company.
About 70 other students from four other NSW universities are also facing severe penalties, including expulsion, after being identified in connection with the Sydney-based My Master company.
The students were identified using data provided by Fairfax Media, following an investigation last year that revealed up to 1000 students from 16 universities had hired the Sydney-based My Master company to ghost-write their assignments and sit online tests.
The data, which was insecurely stored on the now-defunct My Master website, included copies of the purchased assignments, bank receipts showing proof of payment, and in some instances suspected names and student numbers of those involved. The website was written in Chinese and was marketed to international students studying at universities in NSW.
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 My Master 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 which 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 My Master 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 Sydney, 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 My Master.
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 My Master 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 assignment 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 that the My Master 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.