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Essay mills to be banned in England

Offering essay-writing services to students for a fee will become a criminal offence under plans to tackle cheating by ‘essay mills’.

According to an announcement on Tuesday 5 October, it will be a crime in England to provide, arrange, or advertise essay-writing services for financial gain to university and college students.

Making essay mills illegal under new legislation will help protect students from falling prey to the “deceptive marketing techniques of contract cheating services”, the Department for Education (DfE) has said.

There are currently more than 1,000 essays mills in operation. A 2018 survey found that 15.7% of recent graduates admitted to cheating, although institutions claim that use of these services is rare.

The ban is one of a number of measures being introduced to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which aims to transform further and technical education.

Careers education at school will be strengthened, ensuring all pupils have the opportunity to learn about the technical education options available to them, including apprenticeships, T-levels, and traineeships.

Additional amendments include allowing more faith school providers to open post-16 academies with a religious character.

Alex Burghart, Minister for Skills, said: “Essay mills are completely unethical, and profit by undermining the hard work most students do. We are taking steps to ban these cheating services.

“We have also announced a new measure to make sure all young people receive broader careers guidance, so everyone can get the advice that’s right for them.”

The move has been welcomed by higher education bodies.

“These private companies prey on students’ vulnerabilities and insecurities to make money through exploitation”

– Spokesperson for the National Union of Students

Universities UK (UUK), which represents vice-chancellors, said: “While the use of essay mills by students is rare, all universities have codes of conduct that include severe penalties for students found to be submitting work that is not their own.

“Universities have become increasingly experienced at dealing with such issues, and are engaging with students from day one to underline the implications of cheating and how it can be avoided.

Gareth Crossman, head of policy and public affairs at the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), said: “We’re delighted that the DfE has agreed to outlaw these unscrupulous outfits that threaten the integrity of UK higher education and prey on vulnerable students, and hope other UK Governments will also take action.

“This sends a clear signal, but, with well over 1000 essay mills in operation, the sector must continue working together to put them out of business.”

A spokesperson for the National Union of Students (NUS) said: “These private companies prey on students’ vulnerabilities and insecurities to make money through exploitation, and never more so than during the pandemic.

“NUS has called on the government to take action against them in the past, and I hope they are finally listening.

“In the meantime, we would urge universities to put in place academic and pastoral support so that students are never in the position of feeling they have to turn to essay mills in the first place.”

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