Lec­tur­ers paid to help stu­dents cheat in their es­says

The Sunday Telegraph - - Front page - By Camilla Turner ED­U­CA­TION ED­I­TOR

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.

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