A study by the University of Swansea has found that one in seven university essays were written by others, as more students are paying companies to complete their coursework for them.
These “essay mills” are legal in the UK but banned in countries such as the United States and New Zealand. The Quality Assurance Agency, an organisation which monitors higher education standards in the UK, found that they charge from £15 per essay to almost £7000 for PhD dissertations.
The survey undertaken by Professor Phil Newton, director of learning and teaching at Swansea Medical School, discovered that 15.7% of 54,514 respondents from around the world admitted to “contract cheating” since 2014.
This is when students purchase custom-made essays to submit under their own name, which some universities consider a form of plagiarism.
The number has risen by 3.5% over the last 40 years – meaning one in seven university students circumvent the system, which could represent 31 million people worldwide.
Professor Newton suggested that the number may be much higher, as students may be reluctant to confess their actions in order to protect their official academic record.
He said: “These findings underscore the need for legislation to tackle essay mills, alongside improvements in the way students are assessed and awareness-raising of the fundamentals of academic integrity.
“We need to utilise assessment methods that promote learning and at the same time reduce the likelihood that contract cheating can happen.”
Making money by exploiting [students’] anxieties is disgusting
– Amatey Doku
Former Universities Minister Jo Johnson agreed and argued for new guidelines. He called the option to use essay mills “unacceptable and pernicious”.
He added: “[Contract cheating] not only undermines standards in our world-class universities, but devalues the hard-earned qualifications of those who don’t cheat and can even, when it leads to graduates practising with inadequate professional skills, endanger the lives of others.”
Amatey Doku, National Union of Students vice-president for higher education, said the reason students turn to essay mills is the “overwhelming” pressures they face with debts of around £50,000 post-graduation.
“Many websites play on the vulnerabilities and anxieties of students, particularly homing in on students’ fears that their academic English and their referencing may not be good enough,” he said, and stated that “making money by exploiting these anxieties is disgusting”.
A spokesman for Universities UK said that students are bombarded by these companies “from day one”. However, universities have “severe penalties” when students are found submitting work that is not their own.
He added: “Such academic misconduct is a breach of an institution’s disciplinary regulations and can result in students, in serious cases, being expelled from the university.”