The universities watchdog has announced a tough clampdown on companies which help students cheat during their degrees. In an investigation last year by the Quality Assurance Agency, hundreds of companies were found to be producing work for students that would then be passed off as their own.
Charges for services ranged from as little as £15 to almost £7000 for a PhD dissertation. Jo Johnson, the Universities minister, stated that the new guidelines would help prevent cheating, brandishing the practice as “unacceptable and pernicious.”
The new guidelines set out by the QAA urge universities to ban “essay mills” from advertising and to block their websites on campus. They also suggest using software to detect changes in students’ writing styles as well as making it clear that cheats could miss out on their qualifications.
Plans have also been made to improve support for whistleblowers and to include students on academic policy and misconduct panels. Mr Johnson slammed the cheating as undermining standards and devaluing the hard-earned qualifications of those who don’t cheat. “When it leads to graduates practising with inadequate professional skills, [it can] endanger the lives of others,” he added.
Douglas Blackstock, the QAA chief executive, emphasised that it was key for students not to be “duped” by the essay companies. “Paying someone else to write essays is wrong and could damage their career,” he said. The new guidelines also seek to understand that many students turn to cheating due to the pressures of university work, with a set of recommendations to help struggling students with their writing and study skills.
Amatey Doku, NUS vice-president for higher education, said that a key cause was the expectation of achieving high grades when faced with “overwhelming” levels of debt. “Many websites play on the vulnerabilities and anxieties of students’ fears”, he said, adding “making money by exploiting these anxieties is disgusting.”
A spokesperson for Universities UK, who represent vice-chancellors, said that universities were increasingly engaging with students to underline the risks of cheating. “Such academic misconduct is a breach of an institution’s disciplinary regulations and can result in students being expelled from university.”