Rational choice or strain? A criminological examination of contract cheating

Victoria Nagy, Andrew Groves

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Contract cheating is a significant problem, both within and outside the academy. Responses have largely focused on punitive consequences for tertiary students, and in 2019 the Australian Federal Government proposed legislation that would formally criminalise contract cheating both for the buyer and the seller. Although contract cheating has the hallmarks of white-collar crime, criminological examination of this form (and arguably all forms) of academic misconduct has been minimal. Utilising the findings of Bretag, T., Harper, R., Burton, M., Ellis, C., Newton, P., Saddiqui, S., & van Haeringen, K. (2019. Contract cheating: A survey of Australian university students. Studies in Higher Education, 44(11), 1837–1856), where over 14,000 Australian tertiary students were surveyed, we examine contract cheating through a criminological lens and discuss whether rational choice theory (RCT) or general strain theory (GST) can contribute to understanding of its incidence and whether these theories offer a way to respond to or prevent this behaviour in the future. Our findings suggest that neither theory offers a complete solution and it is, in fact, a blend of RCT and GST that can help explain student contract cheating—what we term ‘strained rationality’.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)322-339
Number of pages18
JournalCurrent Issues in Criminal Justice
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2021


  • academic misconduct
  • contract cheating
  • criminology
  • general strain theory
  • rational choice theory


Dive into the research topics of 'Rational choice or strain? A criminological examination of contract cheating'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this