The Times tells us that a growing number of academics and registrars are backing the campaign by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) to create a “hostile environment” for companies that charge students hundreds or thousands of pounds to write bespoke essays. The Minister Sam Gyimah flagged this issue as one of his major concerns in his 5th September speech. Endemic cheating could mean that some universities are starting to move away from essays to alternative assessment or a greater focus on exams. But the system seems to have been remarkably slow at responding to this issue.
Essay Mills’ provide custom written essays for students to cheat with. Prices range from a couple of hundred pounds for a single essay to over £6,750 for a PhD dissertation. This undermines the high standards of universities and is unfair to honest students – but is currently legal. Strange that. Jim Dickinson tested the water recently when he tweeted ‘ ‘Can I pay someone else to write my assignment?’ and was inundated with replies offering assistance. For example: @perfectessays49 Replying to @jim_dickinson
‘Hello there, I am an experienced writer and I would like to offer assistance on your essay. Just DM me the instructions so I can get started 7:43 AM – 2 Sep 2018.
And @TrustedWriters Sep 2 Replying to @jim_dickinson ‘Hello, I can ace the assignment for you. Kindly DM for a deal.’
It does rather beg the question- Are Universities soft on cheating? After all, removing students costs them, and it could cost them quite a lot. If you dismiss an international student, for example, for cheating- how much would that cost? In 2017, international students paid between £10,000 and £35,000 a year for an undergraduate degree, although medical degrees at some of the best universities went up to £38,000 a year. It really isnt terribly difficult to spot cheats. There is software available and half competent tutors with some awareness of their students abilities and writing styles should be able to spot discrepancies and warning signs.Students also leave digital footprints.
Students of course should be warned about Essay Mills too. They need to be made aware that not only do these Mills charge quite a lot of money, (most students are not cash rich)many of them , indeed most, are not very good at essay writing, nor, indeed at answering the question. Formulaic answers are commonplace. If you want a First Class Degree or good 2;1 forget it. Students also expose themselves to a risk of blackmail. And if things go horribly wrong, and they receive a poor grade , there are no come backs. If you get caught cheating it is somewhat career limiting, and you will carry that baggage for the rest of your life. In terms of risks and returns its a no brainer. Dont do it!
Its good that the Minister Sam Gyimah ,who seems to be thriving in his current role, is taking a keen personal interest in this issue.