A campaign to outlaw essay mills in the UK has been running for a few months and 17 October marks the international day of action against contract cheating.
The International Centre for Academic Integrity (which organises the day) was founded to combat cheating, plagiarism, and academic dishonesty in HE. Its mission has expanded to include the cultivation of cultures of integrity in academic communities throughout the world. It’s worth taking a look at their work.
We all know how this works – essay mills offer essay writing services to students in exchange for money and often promise high grades as an incentive. They are not ashamed of what they do – sending e-mails to vulnerable students, targeting students on Twitter and creating fake Facebook profiles in the hope of finding a student who is stuck on their coursework or struggling with time management.
Often they sell themselves as a reference essay writing service, but many straight-up tell you they will take the pressure of study off your shoulders. I have personally been targeted in this way. I was contacted on Facebook and told all I needed to do was send the company my essay guidelines and I would get my ready-to-submit essay a week before deadline.
I was also told that I had the opportunity to have my essay explained to me by one of their “academic experts” if I wanted to. Needless to say, I declined their services. Even after that, the profile kept pushing and made me feel that I wasn’t good enough to do my own work. This tactic – making worried students feel inadequate – is insidious and unethical. But these services only care about making money off us.
Right now a petition is running to make it illegal for these services to advertise and operate in the UK. While that alone wouldn’t stop the issue, it would send a clear message that these services have no place in HE. But we also need to be just as tough on the causes of essay mills as on the mills themselves.
Cost of under-prepared students
Throughout the clearing period there were concerns around universities that students were being recruited to shore up sector finances. But the danger is that students are being admitted to courses that they can’t cope with. Given the high costs of HE and the shame associated with switching or quitting, it’s no wonder that desperate students think the unthinkable. Punishing them for poor admissions practice is not the answer.
There is also the issue of academic support. Around the country National Student Survey results suggest that one in five students aren’t satisfied with the level of academic support available at their provider. While most universities offer academic support for struggling students, it is often inflexible, and around submission and exam times (when it matters the most) help can be hard to get. Feeling under pressure isn’t an excuse, but universities can and should do more to provide support for students who may be struggling and tempted to use these services as an easy way out.
Just a piece of paper
From a personal perspective, I think about how hard I and others work on getting that difficult essay in on time. I sometimes spend every free minute of the day leading up to a deadline perfecting my work and stressing out about referencing I see (and represent) students with notebooks and laptops on trains, buses and the underground with music in their ears focusing on the work they are doing.
All these services make that time spent seem pointless when another person on the same course could get the same mark by sending a single e-mail to an essay mill and transferring £500 to them. That’s why I’d like to see us focus on getting tough on essay mills, and the causes that see them thrive. When done right, students gain life-changing knowledge, experience and skills. Cheats just get a piece of paper.