Ministers concerned about the growing scale of cheating at university have announced a crackdown on so-called “essay mill” websites that provide written-to-order papers for students to submit as part of their degrees.
Jo Johnson, the universities minister, has asked student bodies and institutions for guidance to help combat “contract plagiarism”, where tens of thousands of students are believed to be buying essays for hundreds of pounds a time.
A report by the independent university regulator last summer found that essay writing websites often advertise their services to students for a fee and many promote “plagiarism-free guarantees” or essays tested against plagiarism detection software.
According to the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), there are now more than 100 essay mill websites in operation. The amount they charge is dependent on the complexity of the essay and tightness of deadline, ranging from several hundred pounds for a single essay to £6,750 for a PhD dissertation.
'It's not a victimless crime' – the murky business of buying academic essays
In Britain it is left to individual institutions to develop their own plagiarism policies. But in its research, the QAA recommended new laws to make it illegal to help students “commit acts of academic dishonesty for financial gain”, punishable with fines of up to £5,000. It suggested the UK look to New Zealand, where essay mills have been fined and their assets have been frozen.
The Guardian was on Monday able to access several websites that offered essays on most if not all degree subjects. Most sites required a name, email address and debit card details to purchase an essay, with no restriction on the area of study being requested.
On one site, buyessay.co.uk, students were required to enter the requested attainment level for the essay, the desired length and deadline as well as a description of the assignment. Most sites also asked the desired format of the essay, including line spaces and footnote style. The prices quoted to the Guardian varied from £36 for a two-page essay to £154 for 1,500 words.
The buyessay.co.uk site also carried a message saying use of the essay writing service did not constitute cheating.
The new guidance, expected to be available for the beginning of the 2017-18 teaching year, is to include tough penalties for those who use the websites and offer more information on the potential impact on students’ future careers.
Calling on universities to do more to crack down on contract plagiarism, Johnson said: “This form of cheating is unacceptable and every university should have strong policies and sanctions in place to detect and deal with it.”
Thomas Lancaster, an associate dean at Staffordshire University and one of the UK’s leading experts on essay cheating, said that while universities had anti-plagiarism software to detect copying of academic texts, they could not prevent the process of contract cheating, where students employ ghostwriters to complete new assignments.
“We think this is a substantial problem affecting universities, that students can go and pay other people to do their assignments for them,” he said.
Working in collaboration with Prof Robert Clarke of Birmingham City University, Lancaster identified at least 30,000 examples of students purchasing essays online.
“We’ve been looking at sites where students publicly post their request, but a lot of sites are hidden so that number is just a tiny proportion of all the work,” he said. “We’re confident there’s tens of millions of pounds of business going through essay mills sites every year. It’s big business.
“Advertising appears around university campuses, we observed people giving out business cards in car parks, people putting up flyers on lampposts, even sometimes getting their adverts into secure parts of university buildings.”
The sites are based all over the world, Lancaster said, and quite often the same company operates under a number of domains. “We can put legislation in place to prevent sites from operating from within the UK but they could just move overseas,” he said, adding that the focus could be placed on tackling UK-based advertising of the services on campuses, search engines and social media.
The QAA has been tasked with taking action against the online advertising of the services and to work with international agencies to tackle the problem.
Meanwhile, an amendment has been proposed by Lord Storey, co-chair of the committee on education, families and young people, to the higher education and research bill that would make it an offence to provide or advertise cheating services.
“It’s not illegal for sites to offer to write model essays, it’s not illegal for somebody to buy an essay, but of course if they buy an essay, hand it in, and get a degree they don’t deserve and use that degree to get a job, then there is some kind of fraudulent transaction going on there,” Lancaster said. “I do think universities should do more to tackle essay mills and work with students but universities also need support from the government and a legal framework, it’s a two-way street.”
The government’s move also comes a month after researchers at Swansea University recommended the state bring in tougher new regulations to impose fines on essay mills after concluding the 2006 Fraud Act was unlikely to be effective in tackling the issue, largely due to disclaimers and caveats used by the companies.
“We would hope that a legal approach would at least act as a deterrent to would-be users of these services and serve as a lever to change behaviour,” Michael Draper and Philip Newton, co-authors of the report, wrote in a blogpost.
“However, legal changes alone are not the answer to this problem. We need to ensure that assessments are rigorous and less open to completion by a third party ... we need to make sure it is preferable for students to ‘do the right thing’.”
Ian Kimber, QAA’s director of universities, quality enhancement and standards, said: “Essay mills are a major challenge for universities and colleges because, unlike other forms of cheating, the practice is notoriously difficult to detect.”
Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK, emphasised that submitting work written by someone else constituted cheating, and said she would continue to work with QAA and the National Union of Students to update sector guidance in the area.
“Universities have severe penalties for students found to be submitting work that is not their own,” Goodfellow 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.”
So, you have decided to pay someone for writing your essays. Reasons of your decision may be different, but the fact is that you are going to cheat the system and pay for essay instead of writing it yourself. Do students really understand all risks of choosing custom essay writing services?
Yes, benefits of such services seem obvious, and everything looks quite innocent at first:
- custom essays are quite cheap (though this fact should alert you, and soon you will find out why it is so);
- custom essays are well-structured and professionally written (very often, they are written by college professors themselves. Why do they do so? Keep reading to understand);
- custom essays can’t be detected by plagiarism checkers, because they are not plagiarized actually though they were not written by students themselves;
- custom essays may help you understand the nature of a good paper and write a high-quality essay by your own afterward;
custom essays can save your time, as being a student means having so many tasks and different assignments at the same time, that it may be physically impossible to meet all deadlines.
But everything is not as rosy as it seems at first glance.
The dangers of buying essays online
So, if you try to cheat your professors and pay for papers, you are cheating yourself instead. And here the first risk of paying for essays comes:
- knowing your knowledge and writing style, it will be very easy for your professor to understand that it was not you who has written a new essay. If your previous works were not as good as a new one, your professor will definitely suspect something wrong here; yes, your new work is in a different league now. But how did it happen? Have you suddenly become a guru of essay writing? A good professor will hardly believe that.
Why pay people to write essays
Here the second risk of paying for essays comes:
- when you order an essay, you can’t check the professional skills of your ghostwriter. All of them will definitely say that they are professionals and they perfectly know what they do. All of them will say they are native speakers and they guarantee a high quality of the work they do. But how can you make sure that your money will not be spent on anything unworthy?
Extremely cheap essay writing services can be your first alert that your paper will be written by someone who is not worth your trust.
According to Times Higher Education, prices for such services vary dramatically. One may charge you £70 for a paper, when other one asks £150-£160 for the same work. Prices depend on a region, that it why there is no exact and only scale to understand how much you should pay for a paper of a particular type. And here we have the third risk of paying for essays:
- you can never be sure that you haven’t paid through the nose for your essay.
What can serve as a guarantee here? How to get an essay of a high quality, which is not plagiarized and overpaid? Shall you ask a college professor to write it for your probably?
Why professors do what they do
- if you are caught and disclosed, you will say goodbye to your college and your future diploma. Expulsion is the official punishment recommended for submitting a purchased paper.
But if everything sounds so awful here, it looks really weird when you find out that many college professors are paid to write essays for students. Why do they do that?
In 2010, Ed Dante’s confession blew the Internet up and made everyone speak about custom essays in a different way. His article The Shadow Scholar was published at Chronicle and raised the outrage of society and other college professors. Everyone spoke about teaching ethics, morality and conscience, though the case was about money as well. Yes, simple as that. College professors become custom writers for better income. We all are just people after all.
How to stay safe when paying for essay writing service
- you ask a professor to write a paper on a particular topic. You know that this paper will be of a high quality, so you are not afraid of paying for it. When done, you cite it in your essay. No plagiarism, you are the author of your work. Profit!
Universities do not give any exact policy on citing such works, and that is why ordering them may be quite safe for your reputation. Though it may still be accepted as an academic offense if they notice you citing a purchased paper. As far as you understand, every medal has its reverse. Moreover, college professors do not believe that students would pay for a paper in order to cite it afterward: does it make any sense to pay for anything to cite, if you can find dozens of respectful sources to cite for free?
If you are ready to order and pay for your essay anyway, try to remember the following:
- use only trustful and checked essay writing services;
- keep up with your order progress;
- always check a paper for plagiarism, even if they say they guarantee a high quality of their work.
But maybe it is still worth trying to write a paper for free?
Where to find help with essay writing for free?
- being an active user of such social networks as Facebook and Twitter, you may follow dozens of thematic groups, pages and profiles to ask professionals for help;
- your social accounts may help you find good sources for citation;
- become a member of some thematic forums to research, discuss and ask for essays topic, statement, opposite views, etc.;
- do not ignore Reddit. This advanced search source will help you find all the information related to the topic chosen;
- online libraries of many universities are open for you to use their archives;
- ask your fellows to help you with essay topics, research or structuring your work;
- use some thematic communities, where professionals are ready to help you with editing and proofreading your essay.
Using this huge number of free sources for paper writing, you risk nothing, including the fifth dangerous aspect of paying for essays:
- choosing unknown and unchecked custom essay writing websites that ask you to use your credit card to pay for their services, the threat of your identity theft is always present here.
Certainly, there are many custom essay writing services that work well and do not plan cheating students with bad-quality or stolen papers, their personal or credit cards details theft, etc. And it is a choice and responsibility of every student whether to use such services or not; but taking into account all possible risks and consequences of such a choice, the price you will have to pay for it afterward may be much bigger than a couple of dollars you had paid for your academic paper first.
Now tell us: would you ever pay anyone to write an essay for you?