PayPal is to stop providing services to essay mills – it is really good news. However, it is but one small step on the road to addressing this malign and corrosive influence on higher education.
As the story from the BBC has it:
“PayPal is working with businesses associated with essay-writing services to ensure our platform is not used to facilitate deceptive and fraudulent practices in education,” said a spokesman for the payment firm.
“PayPal will continue to diligently review and take appropriate action on accounts found to facilitate cheating that undermines academic integrity.”
From Wednesday, the payment company is to begin contacting essay-writing firms, giving them notice that they should “move their business elsewhere”.
This sounds like a positive move provided that PayPal’s diligent review definitely leads to action being taken.
However, this other story on the BBC describes how essay mills develop and demonstrates the nature of the challenge:
The first time Chris wrote an essay for someone else, he was paid in food. A friend said his student girlfriend needed help, so Chris agreed to proofread her essay. But it needed more than an edit – “the logic was too messy” – so he rewrote the whole thing. It did the job: the essay was good and the student got a high grade. Chris’s friend was pleased too. “He treated me to hotpot in Singapore – that was the first time I’d been to a hotpot restaurant,” he recalls.Then the student asked him to help her with another assignment. “I said: ‘I can’t eat hotpot every day, I should charge a price.’ Then she introduced me to her classmates and that’s how everything began,” says Chris. Today, he runs what’s known as an ‘essay mill’ – a highly lucrative business writing assignments for students struggling to complete them on their own.
It all sounds so genuine and legitimate but Chris seems to have gone from naive lunch recipient to corrupt exploitation merchant pretty swiftly:
Chris – who doesn’t want to share his surname – suggests what he’s doing sits somewhere between cheating and teaching. “I tell [the students] every time: ‘You can refer to my essay, but you cannot submit it directly to your professor’. But what they do – I cannot control [that]. There are certain students who actually learn from me, so I think it is in a grey area.” Sometimes, he says, he wants to say no. “I told myself I should quit because this is cheating – they didn’t learn anything from me. Then one month later they call me again, saying, ‘Could you please help me again because I need to pass this assignment in order to graduate’. Then I say OK, if that is the case, I will help just this last time. I really want them to learn but it’s just difficult.”
You really have to feel for him. Profiteering from cheating, corruption and exploitation must be really difficult to cope with. Especially at $150k a year. But is there really a grey area here? No. It’s really straightforward. Paying someone else to write an essay for you is cheating. Anyone providing such a service is exploiting the vulnerabilities of students and profiting from undermining the integrity of university awards. It’s black and white.
A recent piece here noted that these delightful essay mill profiteers had even produced a ranking of where the biggest demand for cheating services is and the greatest areas of subject demand. Look at this lovely map for a taste:
There remains a central lie at the heart of the cynical, exploitative essay mill business that somehow this is all about providing a service for students and is not at all about cheating.
Essay mills always say they want to work with universities but their business model is founded on making profit from corrupting the assessment process and profiting from the vulnerabilities and anxieties of students. They are a stain on our sector and have to be tackled.
So, this move by PayPal is a really positive development but it is only one step. We need legislation to outlaw these corrupting, sinister, profiteering, exploitative essay mills. And the sooner the better.