“It Feels Weird Telling You For Sure”: Ambivalence and Uncertainty about Academic Integrity in International Students’ Self-Reports of Using Paid Academic Support Services


  • Joel Heng Hartse Simon Fraser University




academic integrity, academic literacy, private supplementary tutoring, shadow education, tutoring, international students, English as an additional language, Canadian Symposium on Academic Integrity


This presentation reports on a study that examines some international undergraduate students’ use of  private academic support services (PASS), a growing phenomenon in Canadian higher education in the last decade whose practitioners often advertise to international and/or multilingual students. We situate the use of PASS at the intersection of three constructs: literacy brokering (Curry and Lillis, 2006), contract cheating (Lancaster & Clarke, 2016), and private supplementary tutoring/“shadow education” (Bray, 2008), seeking to understand why some students choose to pay for help with academic work and how they understand the ethics of their choices. 


Using a survey (n = 898 international student responses, with ⅔ being self-identified as users of English as an additional language) and semi-structured follow-up interviews (n= 23), this presentation addresses the following research questions: 


  • What is the type and nature of PASS that some students use, and why do they seek such services?
  • How do students understand the use of PASS in relation to academic integrity?


Survey results reveal 30% of participants described using some form of PASS, most commonly “homework help” websites or tutoring. Students described a variety of reasons for seeking PASS, often related to their perceived convenience and/or limited access to other forms of in-time support. Interviews revealed ambivalence about the use of PASS; while some reported feeling PASS were helpful in achieving academic goals, some described feeling uneasy or uncertain about their ethical acceptability or usefulness. We conclude with policy and pedagogical implications for this growing grey area of para-academic support.

Author Biography

Joel Heng Hartse, Simon Fraser University

Dr. Joel Heng Hartse is a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University, where he teaches academic literacy and TESOL courses. His work has appeared in journals including the Journal of Second Language Writing, Asian Englishes, Composition Studies, Across the Disciplines, and English Today. His books include TL;DR: A Very Brief Guide to Reading and Writing in University (On Campus Books, UBC Press, 2023) and Perspectives on Teaching English at Colleges and Universities in China (coauthored with Jiang Dong; TESOL Press, 2015).


Bray. M (2008). The shadow education system: private tutoring and its implications for planners. Paris: UNESCO.

Lancaster, T. & Clarke, R. (2016). Contract Cheating: The Outsourcing of Assessed Student Work. In T. Brietag (Ed.), the Handbook of Academic Integrity (639-654).

Lillis, T., & Curry, M. J. (2006). Professional academic writing by multilingual scholars. Interactions with literacy brokers in the production of English-medium texts. Written Communication, 23(1), 3-35.



How to Cite

Heng Hartse, J. (2023). “It Feels Weird Telling You For Sure”: Ambivalence and Uncertainty about Academic Integrity in International Students’ Self-Reports of Using Paid Academic Support Services. Canadian Perspectives on Academic Integrity, 6(1). https://doi.org/10.11575/cpai.v6i1.76920



Canadian Symposium on Academic Integrity