University heads seek to ban ‘essay mills’

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Osama Abou-zeid
Writer

These essay writing companies are currently not illegal in the UK unlike other countries.

Over 40 university heads have called for a ban on essay-writing companies in a letter to the Education Secretary Damian Hinds.

The letter, signed by 46 vice chancellors and heads of higher education bodies, argues that such companies – also known as “essay mills” – should be made illegal as they are unfair to “honest, hard-working students”.

Essay-writing companies advertise themselves to students, offering to write essays tailored to their specific subject on their behalf, which the student can then pass off as their own work after paying a fee.

If discovered to be using these services, a student can face severe punishments which may include being thrown off their course; however, it is sometimes difficult for universities’ anti-plagiarism software to detect whether the work indeed belongs to the student who handed it in.

Currently, it is not illegal in the UK for companies to advertise and provide readily-written essays, unlike in other countries – such as Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand – which have either introduced or are in the process of introducing a legal ban on essay mills, a fact which university heads address in the letter.

Universities Minister Sam Gyimah responded to the news on Twitter, accusing essay mills of “normalising and enabling cheating, but also trying to devalue the quality of our degrees and put our world-class reputation at risk.”

He continued: “University is all about learning, training your intellect and applying knowledge to a high standard. Students work incredibly hard to get a place at university and those who choose to cheat risk throwing it all away, cheating their futures, for the sake of a short-cut.

“Students must not resort to cheating – it is not the solution for anyone who may be struggling on their course – the right thing is to speak to lecturers and get the right support.

“Legislative options are not off the table, but I also expect universities to be taking steps to tackle this issue – the OfS [Office for Students] will take tough action if they fail to do so.”

The OfS, an independent public body which reports to Parliament via the Department of Education, also gave their say on the matter, with Chief Executive Nicola Dandridge warning that “universities and colleges wishing to register with us must demonstrate that they are protecting the reliability and credibility of degree standards. We will work closely with the government and the whole higher education sector in a collective effort to close these operations for good.”