Lecturers paid to help students cheat in their essays
UNIVERSITY lecturers are topping up their earnings by accepting cash from students for helping them cheat in their degrees, a government-backed review will suggest.
The inquiry was commissioned by ministers amid concerns that universities were gripped by an epidemic of socalled “essay mills”, which sell essays, course work or exam answers to students. Institutions which repeatedly turn a blind eye to cheating could be stripped of their powers to award degrees by the Government’s new regulator, the Office for Students (OFS), The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.
Academic staff and lecturers are among those paid by “essay mill” companies to complete work for students, the report by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), the UK’s independent quality body for higher education, is expected to find.
“These ‘essay mill’ companies prey on vulnerable academics as well as students,” said Douglas Blackstock, the chief executive of the QAA.
“These are hard-pressed research assistants or lecturers, topping up their earnings. Many companies claim they get genuine academics to write their material. To make their businesses viable, they need to attract people who know enough about the subject.
“If a university was to find a member of staff was writing an essay for [their students] we would think that is a serious issue.”
The report will recommend that universities add an explicit clause into academic staff contracts to explain that “assisting a student to commit an academic offence, or ignoring evidence of misconduct, would be a cause for a staff disciplinary investigation”.
Later this month the OFS will also unveil a series of conditions for registration, which institutions will have to meet if they want to retain their status as a university.
Mr Blackstock told The Sunday
Telegraph that the ability to secure
academic standards was likely to be a condition for registration.
“In a really serious failing of academic standards, there will be significant consequences. [The OFS] allows for the removal of degree awarding powers,” he said.
Mr Blackstock added that universities must have appropriate sanctions in place to tackle “contract cheating”, and if they fail to address the issue “there have to be consequences”.
“Universities have a responsibility for academic standards,” he said. “There are expectations that they secure the standards of their degrees.”
Mr Blackstock warned that failing to confront fraudulent work not only undermined academic standards, but was a matter of public safety when graduates entered the jobs market.
“This is where we want to work with the professionals,” he said. “You wouldn’t want a lawyer representing you in a court case [if they had not passed their law degree on their own]. If it was a medical-related profession or something that [impacted on] public safety, that is such a dangerous thing.”
He said if the issue was not addressed, there may be “significant consequences” for institutions, students, academics and the public.
The QAA previously found the use of “essay mills” was “rife” among university students, with previous reports suggesting that sixth-form pupils have also used such methods.
Earlier this year, this newspaper revealed that more than 20,000 students enrolled at British universities were paying up to £6,750 for bespoke essays in order to obtain degrees.
The number of students using “essay mill” sites has rocketed over the last five years.
While universities use anti-plagiarism software to detect the copying of academic texts, the process of “contract cheating” – where students submit paid-for essays as their own original work – means examiners are powerless to prevent foul play.