It takes about three minutes to order a final dissertation for an English literature degree at the UK Essays website. I pick my country, subject and required grade. I go for a 2:1, choose a length – let’s say 5,000 words – a seven-day deadline, and watch the price calculator hit £687 (or £1,236 for a two-day turnaround). Click “next step” and I can enter my topic before being matched with a suitable writer, who will produce an essay “personalised to my requirements”. It would come with a series of promises. “The work we produce is guaranteed to meet the grade you order, or you get your money back.” It will also be “100% free from plagiarism” – and on time.
All of this would be totally legal and, the owners of UK Essays insist, ethical, too – because what its customers are definitely not supposed to do is submit the work as their own. “Our essays … are the best, most useful study aid in the world,” says Daniel Dennehy, chief operating officer at All Answers, the Nottinghamshire company that owns UK Essays. “They increase any student’s understanding of a topic, which subsequently improves their ability to write an excellent, unique answer of their own.”
UK Essays says it sold 16,000 assignments last year, up from 10,000 five years earlier, written by a network of 3,500 researchers. The company’s “fair use policy”, which requires a click away from the order page, spells out the rules. “Even if you did make minor alterations to the researcher’s work, this would still be considered plagiarism,” it warns. But, Dennehy accepts, “I have worked here for nine years and I am not naive enough to think that all our clients use the work correctly.” He declines to estimate what proportion of his customers are cheats.
The growth of these sites, which are known as essay mills, is now troubling the higher levels of government. Jo Johnson, the universities minister, has appealed to student bodies and universities to help tackle so-called “contract plagiarism”, which he sees as a growing threat to academic integrity. New guidelines, to be published in time for the next academic year, are expected to recommend a new sector-wide policy, and the government has not ruled out beefing up the law.
The intervention follows a report published last summer by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), which maintains standards in higher education. It found that anti-plagiarism policies were variable across universities, and that fraud law isn’t robust enough to legislate against the misuse of essay mills. It also suggested a ban on advertising, and explored the role of search engines, which present hundreds of results to students looking for essays.
The government believes there are more than 100 mills in operation, churning out anything from B-grade GCSE coursework (£106 on UK Essays) to a 100,000-word PhD in criminal law (£82,238). “But our research suggests it’s more like 1,000 sites,” says Prof Phil Newton, the director of learning and teaching at Swansea University and an expert in academic plagiarism. Previous estimates suggest that more than 20,000 students a year in the UK are paying for essays to get degrees. The true figure may be much higher.
“This is a very fast-moving problem, which the sector and legislation has been slow to address,” Newton adds. “When I started researching it in 2009, I couldn’t believe what was available and how little research had been done. On some sites you can even enter your course code and the name of your lecturer and the writer will tailor an essay to that. To the man on the street,” he adds, “it’s very odd that this sort of thing is legal.”
Universities are equipped to detect old-fashioned, cut-and-paste plagiarism. Software such as Turnitin, which claims 97% of UK universities as customers, flags up passages it identifies in existing sources. But it cannot detect an original essay written by someone else. Even when lecturers suspect foul play, it can be hard to know how to act. “I had one instance recently when a student received a much higher mark than expected,” says a senior lecturer at a London university, who asked not to be named. “His work had a level of fluency and sophistication of thought that hadn’t been seen. But I wasn’t 100% sure, because I think he wrote parts of the essay in his own style to throw me off, so I left it. It’s a minefield.”
Opinion is divided over how to respond, however, and whether tighter rules or laws risk driving would-be cheats to the darker edges of the “model answers industry”, as essay mills prefer to be called. Many students have reported being ripped off with shoddy work, or none at all. But there is also concern that contract plagiarism, while obviously wrong, is a symptom of what critics describe as the commodification of higher education.
International students in the UK now pay between around £15,000 and £40,000 a year in tuition fees. Those from outside the EU paid £4.2bn in fees in 2014-15, almost 30% of universities’ income from fees – and almost 13% of their total income.
Universities depend on foreign students with deep pockets, which is why they are fighting government plans to bring numbers down. Dave Tomar, a former mill writer in the US, says this means universities too often sell places to ill-equipped students, many of whom arrive with limited written English or awareness of British academic norms. “The vast majority of students who cheat aren’t lazy, but struggling,” he says. “They have invested so much that they don’t want to blow it by failing.”
In 10 years, Tomar, 37, says he wrote about 4,000 assignments for customers, including hundreds in Britain. Before he quit in 2013, he says he earned $60,000 (almost £50,000) a year; he says writers generally get about half the essay fee. “Whatever their motivations, this is a symptom, not the illness,” he adds from his home in Philadelphia, where he now writes about education reform after the success of The Shadow Scholar, a book about his former life. “We need a broader conversation about how educational systems are failing these students such that they end up in college way over their heads.”
Now a degree is a commodity, no wonder more students are cheating | Poppy Noor
While studying a language at Cambridge University, Claire (not her real name) wrote essays during her first year, and also understood that most of her customers were not British. “You have a UK system reliant on foreign students while, through the backdoor, companies are devaluing the very degree certificates that attract all that foreign money in the first place,” she says in an email, describing the result as “a wonderful downward spiral of devaluation”.
Newton accepts that, in some places, students arrive without sufficient skills to complete good written work. But he says students know when they are crossing a line, and that penalties for plagiarism are generally tough already (cheats at Swansea are expelled). What has changed, he adds, is the increasing accessibility and slick presentation of many of the sites, which appeal to students who might not otherwise resort to cheating. “The easier it is, the more likely it is to happen,” he says.
Not all essay mills, which began to proliferate over a decade ago, do much to put off would-be cheats. OK Essay, which last year removed adverts from London Underground stations near universities after complaints, claims on its homepage to have more than 10,000 customers. “Looking for experts to ‘Write my essay for me’? Choose us and we won’t disappoint you!” Deep in the terms and conditions, the mill says it will not be liable “for the outcome or consequences of submission [of] the paper to any academic institution”. Nowhere does it explicitly advise against it.
Posing as a struggling history student, I call the customer support line for clarification. “If I want to use the essay as my own work, is that possible?” I ask. “I’m not able to tell you whether it’s possible or not. We just write the paper for you and you can use it for what you want,” the agent says. The company says it is based in Sheffield, but there is no address on the website, which also hides its domain registration details. The terms and conditions say the site is owned by Elabama Inc, a company registered in Panama. “So it would be at my own risk?” I ask. “You can just use it at your own risk – it’s what our disclaimer says on our website. It’s meant to serve as example … You can get it, read it, shake it and if you like it you can use it, if you don’t like it you can fix it to [be] like you want it and use it.” When I call back as a journalist, I am given an email address but none of my questions are answered, and despite further calls and emails, there is no response to the suggestion that the company appears to condone cheating.
Claire wrote for Oxbridge Essays, a prominent site with offices in London. “It was clear to everyone involved what was going on,” she recalls. Yet she found the work stimulating as well as lucrative after quitting a “soul-destroying” temp job. “I didn’t worry too much about the ethics at first because I felt bitter about the fact this was the only way I could find work that was interesting and rewarding,” she says. “I got paid £200 for the first one. I was 19 and that was a lot of money.”
In 2013, the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that Oxbridge Essays had breached its code by guaranteeing “that you will receive at least the grade you order”. The implication of the promise contradicted the company’s terms, which prohibit the submission of its essays, the authority found. Philip Malamatinas, who launched the site in 2006, declines to answer questions. Nor does he respond to Claire’s claim that the company knew what was going on. “We work with thousands of students who come to us having been let down by a system designed to penalise those for whom English is a second language, and who typically pay three or four times as much as UK students in tuition fees,” he writes in a statement. “Sadly, our universities are simply too stretched to provide the same level of support to all and as a result, students are turning to private enterprises to subsidise their educational needs.”
Mills are not the only people making a case for model answers. “I think they’re incredibly valuable, especially for international students,” says Alexander Proudfoot, chief executive of Independent Higher Education (formerly Study UK), which represents more than 130 private institutions. He attended a QAA plagiarism forum before the publication of last year’s report. “We’d be happy for there to be a national database of essays. If you made them accessible then the demand for essay mills goes out the window [see footnote].”
Universities blame others for plagiarism. They need to look at themselves
Newton, who also sat on the forum, is not convinced, preferring “to show students how things are structured and what it looks like to write an essay”. Either way, he adds: “When you can give a precise title and specify the grade and the referencing and sources, that’s something very different.” No essay site I approach will explain why, if their work is only intended to be used as a model, they are so keen to guarantee originality, sometimes two days before a deadline, if not to help students elude plagiarism detection software.
Newton believes part of the solution must be a requirement for more face-to-face and practical assessment. Proudfoot says institutions should find resources for essay-writing and critical-thinking classes, as well as tutorial support for students who “find themselves backed into a corner”. Claire agrees. She gave up when the demands of her own studies left her too busy to write for other students. “My dad also told me, ‘You might not be thinking about the wider repercussions of this now, but think about later,’ and I thought – you know, you might be right.”
• The following footnote was added on 6 March 2017: after publication, Alexander Proudfoot asked us to clarify that when he said “the demand for essay mills goes out the window”, he meant “the argument for essay mills goes out the window”.
‘People living alone ‘are more depressed’’ is an article from the BBC website on http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-17475240. The article is a research that was done on the probability of people living alone being prone to depression. It was found out people living alone lacked a forum where they could share their feelings and thoughts. This therefore makes them accumulate a lot in their minds, which is likely to lead to depression. The research that was carried out revealed that people living alone bought more depressants compared to those who lived with others1. This story is significant not only to the United Kingdom community but also in United States and to the world at large. Work schedules, climatic conditions and sicknesses makes many people to live isolated lives. Technology is also another factor that has made people to loose touch with fellow beings as they can obtain almost everything by a simple touch of the button.
Were the issue to be addressed by the American media, the perspective could slightly be different. This would have been looked at in a wider area of the consequences of loneliness rather than looking at depression as a topic. The American media not only seeks to address the issue at face value but also go into the details of finding out how it is caused, the repercussions and how the issue could be sorted out. The difference in presentation of the issues is mainly because of the magnitude of the problem and how it affects people. We realize that depression is a bigger issue in United Kingdom while in United States, it is all about the lifestyles that people adopt and how it affects their lives.
‘Students to be given £100 towards travel to college’ is an article from the Somerset on the website http://www.thisissomerset.co.uk/Students-given-100-travel-college/story-15589968-detail/story.html. The article is an informative piece that highlights on the efforts of Strode College to offer transport facilities to their students. It gives the details on how the transport will be facilitated depending on the need of the students and their economic background. The principal of the college made the decision considering numerous numbers of students that prefer to obtain knowledge from the institution2. Apart from the fact that the institution is centrally located and served with numerous bus roots, it is also credited for its good performance. It is for this reason that the principal recognizes the financial burden of the parents and the students and seeks to boost them. This will enhance good performance among students of all status, as they will not have to worry about many other issues.
The issue in question is how to assist students get to their colleges without such problems. This is also for the purpose of bridging the gap between those from wealthy backgrounds and those from poor ones. The move was also moved to support new students in the college especially after the government slashed bursaries. The issue addressed is of international nature especially when it is considered that educations affects every young person. This being a paramount foundation, it is never fair for some students to miss out on quality education simply because they cannot afford it. The issue would have been handled differently in United States and most probably with the issue of race at hand. It would have been more of how to help students from single-parent backgrounds and more especially among African Americans to obtain quality educational facilities. When it comes to education in United States, it seems more like the black students are the ones who have more issues than the whites. The issue of balancing between educational standards of the whites and the blacks could have therefore taken center stage had the article been written in United States.
‘Emergency work on bridge delays traffic’ is an article in the Scotland on Sunday at the website http://www.scotsman.com/scotland-on-sunday/scotland/emergency-work-on-bridge-delays-traffic-1-2180381. This informative article seeks to alert people of the disruptions that will be taking place due to repairs that have to be done. The article explains on why the repairs have to be done and the people that will be affected. The post also mentions of how the disruptions will affect motorists and the alternatives that are available to them. There is also a possibility of the interruptions extending past what has been given just incase the work is not completed within the designate time. The interruptions could also be extended due to changing weather patterns. The public is being requested to not only understand but also corporate with the engineers in ensuring that transport is not affected in the near future due to extensive damages.
The issue being addressed is of local nature and does not affect the international community. It is mainly about local transport disruptions yet it could only affect international visitors to the country. The issue does not also affect United States directly but indirectly, it could affect immigrant to UK who will have to use the bridge for their activities. Since the article mainly affects United Kingdom, the issue would have been addressed in a similar way in Unites States. It is usually necessary for the government and even the private sector to notify the public whenever they are venturing into repairs or activities that will affect them. This is for the purpose of recognizing the inconveniences that will be caused to them as well as telling them why important it is for them to facilitate the project.
‘Thanks a million! Our fund gets record breaking boost’ is an article in the London evening standard from the website http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/dispossessed/thanks-a-million-our-fund-gets-record-breaking-boost-7583379.html. The article is mainly to inform and thank the public for their participation in the sports relief fund. This is a kitty that was initiated by the sports fraternity to help some needy families in London. The idea emerged from reports that there were people in London who were languishing in poverty. It is for this cause that the sports people joined other charitable organizations and the public to mobilize people to contribute so that they assist such families4. The fund had so far received good response with a large number of people turning out to support them. It was a call to the public to keep on contributing towards this worthy cause so to facilitate equal distribution of resources.
Even though the article is of a local nature, its activities affect…