When the public narrative about our elected national leaders is about sleaze, lack of integrity, unethical practices, and behaviour not in keeping with expected standards, it is perhaps not surprising that other aspects of life are facing difficulties in the ethical realm.
Nowhere is this more true than in the higher education sector – where we have faced huge challenges in recent years with the explosion of essay-writing services designed to help students cheat in their assessed work. Along with many others I remain extremely concerned and actually angry about the essay mills industry and cheating services which are corrupting, pernicious, exploitative of students and undermining integrity of higher education.
Given the scale and prevalence of this activity now it is going to take a huge effort to stamp it out. We can start with legislation but it also needs action by regulators, universities, individual academics, students’ unions and students themselves. I have, of course, gone on about this on many previous occasions. It is great to see Chris Skidmore continue to press for the law change required.
I was also pleased to see the recent launch of the #BetterByU campaign by a group of students’ union officers, addressing the core issues of academic integrity and aimed at students but also universities and government.
Charter for Good
The QAA announced some excellent progress with its academic integrity charter – 118 HEIs across the UK have now signed up:
The Charter was developed with the support of the UK Academic Integrity Advisory Group. It sets out seven principles that signatories commit to implementing within their institutions, and has been welcomed by UK Government Ministers.
The seven principles in the Charter will help providers develop their own policies and practices to ensure that each student’s qualification is genuine, verifiable and respected. The seven principles are:
• All members of a higher education provider’s community are responsible for embedding and upholding academic integrity.
• Taking a holistic ‘whole community’ approach, covering all provision.
• To work together as a sector.
• To engage with and empower students.
• To empower and engage with staff.
• To have consistent and effective institutional policies and practices.
• To take responsibility as autonomous institutions for promoting and maintaining the quality and integrity of provision, and securing the academic standards of awards.
When I first came across one of these corrupting outfits some 20 years ago while working at the University of Warwick I was genuinely shocked at their brazen advertising of the sleazy services they offered, and I sought to remove all their advertising material form where they had placed it all over campus. They went to the local paper and ended up on the front page expressing outrage at the attempt to constrain their legitimate business activity and proposing that their services were needed because the university was failing its students. That company now seems to be one of the biggest of the UK-based essay mills.
But there is a lot of competition. Any cursory Google search reveals a large number of promoted advertisements for these companies followed by huge lists of similar sounding providers.
Your Most Trusted Cheats
Fortunately, or rather frighteningly, there are plenty of essay mill ranking sites too which sort out the sleazy from the sleazier. I’ve often mocked rankings here for their absurd attempts to differentiate universities according to various spurious criteria but these really are beyond parody. Take this one for example:
It lists almost 1000 – a thousand! – essay mills, many with similar names and all of them offering the same range of corrupt and corrupting services. Every single one of them claims to be better at helping students cheat than the others. It’s a scary list to scroll through.
It’s cynical, exploitative, profiteering corruption on an industrial scale. We all have to do more to stamp it out.