Over 40 prominent figures in UK universities wrote to the education secretary last week outlining their concerns about the highly used ‘essay mills’.
The University bosses have argued that essay writing services themselves should be penalised, rather than just their users. Calling for the service to be deemed illegal as it is in the US and New Zealand, as it is “unfair to honest students.”
The call follows a recent study suggested as many as one in seven students are paying for someone else to write their essays either at school or at university through the online essay mills.
The research, conducted by Swansea University, asked more than 50,000 students about their contract cheating habits. 15.7% of respondents admitted to cheating since 2014 – a dramatic increase on the average of 3.5% over the last 40 years.
Universities minister, Sam Gyimah, said the government was working to “bear down” on the problem, making it clear that “legislative options are not off the table.”
Contract cheating is not limited to essay mills – submission of any essay that is not your own comes under this branch of plagiarism. However, the large increase in contract cheating could be down to its increased ease through online essay mills. The services often advertise on social media or around university campuses, making it widely available for students.
A University of Manchester spokesperson told The Mancunion: “We are working with students to tackle all forms of cheating, but have concerns that a solely legislative approach could lead to the criminalisation of some students without due regard for any extenuating circumstances or their wellbeing.
“We welcome a broader package of measures to deal with academic malpractice amongst students, which should take account existing university processes that address cheating.”
In an anonymous survey conducted by The Mancunion, students at the University of Manchester appeared to have mixed views on the usefulness and morality of essay mills.
“They’re cheating,” one student responded. Another replied “I can understand why people use them but it makes a mockery of the education system.”
“I think they’re wrong, but at university where our grades aren’t based on an average of other people’s grades it’s none of my business if someone else uses one.”
Professor Phil Newton, who led the research at Swansea University, warned that cheating numbers could be much higher than the research shows as those who have paid for essays are less likely to volunteer to take part in surveys on cheating.
The quality of work produced by essay mills is varied; one respondent told us: “My mate spent £600 getting his dissertation done, and it was so bad quality he had to write it himself after all anyway.”