Call for Action to Clampdown on Essay Mills Used by 115,000 UK University Students to Cheat
There are more than two million students at Britain’s universities and many of them are studying subjects which involve the writing of essays. In recent years the internet has led to a rise in plagiarism and now the scourge of essay mills.
A Conservative MP is leading a campaign to get Boris Johnson to follow the Australian government in banning websites
which sell essays to university students who pay to cheat.
The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) estimates there are 932 such websites, sometimes referred to as essay mills, which employ students or even professors in countries like Kenya
to write high-quality essays for British, American and Australian students who are lazy or lacking in confidence.
It was estimated in 2018 that 115,000 UK students were using essay-writing services.
Chris Skidmore, a former universities minister, introduced a bill in Parliament under the ten-minute rule
earlier this year in a bid to introduce legislation similar to that in Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Ireland and 17 US states.
He said: "These so-called essay mills are a rot that infects the very discipline of learning and has the potential to damage academic integrity beyond repair. It is sad to say that it is a rot that is spreading, not only in higher education but across all forms and levels of education, from schools to further education colleges. The online presence of essay mills and their websites, which encourage contract cheating, is all-pervasive."
Jayne Rowley, Executive Director of the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), said recently: “We support legislation to put an end to essay mills and all education cheating services. This is not about criminalising students for using these services, but to protect them from exploitation and prevent them from risking their careers.”
Ms Rowley said: “It’s vital that we stamp out cheating and fraud in education. Legislation is long overdue and the only way we can stop the criminals who are profiting from our students.”
Mr Skidmore said he had heard anecdotal evidence of students being hired to hand out fliers for essay mill websites on campus and others being blackmailed after submitting essays which were written for them by strangers.
Research published earlier this year in the International Journal for Educational Integrity pointed out some science students were using websites such as Chegg to obtain exam answers in real time so they could cheat during exams.
Degree fraud is a massive industry and includes not just essay mills but fake universities and forged degree certificates.
Obtaining a degree - or pretending you have a degree - can be the difference between getting well-paid employment or working in a dead-end job.
Mr Skidmore’s bill, which is supported by the QAA, the Russell Group of top universities and by Universities UK, has only had a second reading but it looks unlikely to become law unless the government weighs in and ensures it has parliamentary time.
But researchers at Deakin University in Australia who interviewed 7,000 students found those who were willing to cheat were not put off by new laws which criminalise the practice.
There is little information on how many UK university students are kicked out for plagiarism - in 2008
the Times Higher Education Supplement suggested only 143 had been expelled that year.
Universities are often unwilling to publicise cases of plagiarism or cheating and it is often in their best interests to ignore it or brush it under the carpet.