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April 16, 2021

Schools now outsourcing grading of papers to Asia

As if North Americans didn’t live in outsourcing hell already …

In a world where cheap labour talks, contracting out work is part of life. Your TV wasn’t made here, nor is its tech support call centre likely located in this hemisphere.

And while Canadians curse their lack of employment, the devil’s advocate point of view on outsourcing is quite convincing: This isn’t charity. We’re running a business. If they can do it cheaper, why would we go anywhere else?

Yet, even the staunchest supporters of sending work overseas must feel there’s a limit to what should be outsourced and what shouldn’t. Sewing shirts? Yeah, that seems to make sense. What about grading school papers, though?

Grading school papers?

Yes, according to a new report from the Chronicle of Higher Education, many North American colleges and universities have now taken to outsourcing the grading of school essays and assignments to countries like India, Singapore and Malaysia.

The University of Houston is just one institution that uses a U.S.-based company called EduMetry, whose Virtual-TA program uploads papers to so-called experts worldwide.

“The goal of the service is to relieve professors and teaching assistants of a traditional and sometimes tiresome task,” says the Chronicle, noting that many overseas graders are women with children, eager to do part-time work from home.

Not to speculate on the quality of EduMetry’s work – “This is what they do for a living,” said one Virtual-TA customer. “We’re working with professionals.” – but this, well, disturbing trend raises a few key issues.

First, outsourcing the grading of papers seems like it robs professors and TAs from feedback crucial to their job performance. Tedious as it may be, reading your students’ work shows teachers what’s sticking and what’s not. How can a scholar improve his or her lesson plan if they’re removed from how intimately classes demonstrate a grasp of the course’s content?

More importantly, though, while this service is billed as a service to complement existing TAs, how can anyone reasonably suggest it won’t lead to widespread lay-offs of teaching assistants going forward?

Virtual-TAs costs vary by length and complexity, according to the Chronicle, but a benchmark price the program advertises is that each graded assignment will run $12 per student. For a class size of 20 students, then, outsourcing the grading of six assignments over a course would cost a university or college about $1,440.

I’d imagine even TAs – a group that, even by my own naïveté to the profession, would probably concede grading papers is a chief component to their job – have to be concerned over that price quote.

What’s to say, with those cost structures in place, more schools wouldn’t jump on board with Virtual-TA? Long-term, this may not lead to the dismissal of all TAs in North America, but if a course needs seven teaching assistants today, for example, wouldn’t it be much more cost-effective to only hire four and outsource grading to make up for the missing responsibilities?

Or maybe the schools are already thinking that. This quote on using Virtual T-A seems to be pretty telling on the future of academic outsourcing:

“We definitely have a cost-benefit ratio that’s completely in our favour for us to do this,” admits Lori Whisenant, the University of Houston’s director of business law and ethics studies.

By Jason Buckland, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...