Universities Call for Criminalisation of ‘Essay Mill’ Companies

Heads of 40 British universities have called for a legislative ban on professional essay writing services.

The use of these services, where students can pay to have their essay written, is currently banned in universities, but is not illegal. 46 Vice Chancellors and heads of higher education bodies have called on the government to bring in legislation to end these operations and their advertising, saying they want to crack down the companies producing the essays, not the students using them.

A study by Swansea University saw a 15.7% rise in students who admitted cheating between 2014 and 2018.

The Quality Assurance Agency, which “safeguards standards and improves the quality of UK higher education”, found that companies charge between £15 and £7,000. In the last four years, up to one in seven graduates may have cheated by using these ‘essay mills’. A study by Swansea University saw a 15.7% rise in students who admitted cheating between 2014 and 2018.

Universities Minister Sam Gyimah appears to support their demands, insisting that new legislation was “not off the table”. Gyimah stressed the existing work of the government to combat cheating in universities, claiming credit for “the likes of YouTube removing adverts for these essay mills”. Advertising these services to students appears a very real issue; last year posters advertising essay writing services were found at London Underground stations near universities, while another company was found distributing flyers at Queen Mary University in London. However, he also suggested that change should come from universities themselves as well, “for example, by tackling the advertising of these services in their institutions” and “educating students about…[the] possibly life-changing penalties they face”.

Despite all the bad press they receive, some have argued in favour of ‘essay mills’.  Daniel Dennehy, chief operations officer of UK Essays suggests there are two types of company. Some, like UK Essays, “don’t promote cheating and try to stop it”, while others “promote cheating and couldn’t care less about academic integrity”. According to Dennehy, UK Essays sets out a ‘fair use’ policy, which states students should use the essay as a “basis for [their] own further research” and not submit it as their own. He argues that using a model answer is another way of seeking help, where other students might go to a private tutor or family member.

This is not the first time there has been a crackdown on essay mills. In January 2017, universities called for fines to crack down on companies selling their services. Universities across the country currently use software that detects plagiarism, as well as blocking ‘essay mill’ websites on university computers. Regardless, although students may face an academic penalty, there remains no consequence for the ‘essay mill’ companies facilitating their cheating.

Fiona Linnard

Image: [Pixabay]