Sydney, July 3 : More and more Computer Science students in Australia are turning to programmers in countries like India to have their assignments completed cheaply, and university staff say that they are powerless to detect and prevent such acts.
According to reports, dishonest students use Internet sites like RentACoder and Kasamba to outsource their homework.
Assignments are put out to tender on such websites, and coders bid to complete them.
Depending upon the amount of work required, students usually fork out 100 dollars to several hundred dollars.
Apart from programming jobs, some well-known Internet sites also sell students essays and other written work.
Codes used for the outsourcing business make it difficult to detect such activities.
"I think it's a growing issue as a form of misconduct that universities are going to have to take seriously and at the moment our defences are weak," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted David Wilson, associate dean of teaching and learning for information technology at the University of Technololgy, Sydney, as saying.
"We're aware that it happens and we're catching some people but I think that's the tip of the iceberg," he added.
Paul Compton, head of the school of computer science and engineering at the University of New South Wales, also pointed out that the existing automated plagiarism detection tools, such as Turn It In, could not detect outsourced work.
He said that such programmes could only reveal similarities among assignments submitted by a number of students, or whether a piece of work contained passages copied from the Internet.
"The rent-a-coder stuff is almost impossible to pick up," Professor Compton said.
"If the coder provides the same solution to a few students we'll catch them via the plagiarism detection but if they only provide it to one student you essentially can't catch them," he added.
James Thom, acting head of RMIT's school of computer science, believes that the university policy to be followed to prove misconduct is highly problematic.
"Certain situations arise where it's very clearly happened but being able to have enough to take action against the students - or what sort of action to take - can be difficult," he said.
At times, university staff have tried investigating the rent-a-coder sites to see what assignments they have assigned.
However, the use of an email address and alias by the tech-savvy computer science students makes it really very difficult for teachers to identify pupils.
Professor Compton says that one strategy to deal with the problem could be to conduct more exams supervised by university staff, rather than put a heavy emphasis on take-home assignments.
"We include questions that test their knowledge of the assignment such that you couldn't really answer the question unless you'd done a lot of work on it," he said.
Lecturers contacted by Fairfax Media agreed unanimously that outsourcing coursework was a significant and growing problem, but because of the difficulties in detecting it, it's impossible to tell exactly how widespread the practice is.
"We know that it's sufficiently widespread for us to be worried. Whether it's widespread enough to undermine the value of everything we do, we don't think it's at that level," Professor Wilson said.