Es­say mill dis­claimers are a joke – it’s time to get se­ri­ous on cheat­ing

Philip M. Newton is di­rec­tor of learn­ing and teach­ing at Swansea Univer­sity Med­i­cal School. Michael Draper is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in le­gal stud­ies at Swansea Univer­sity

THE (Times Higher Education) - - LET­TERS -

This is a sam­ple es­say on “the ad­ver­tis­ing used by es­say mills”.

This is a ref­er­ence work only. It must not be used as your own work, even par­tially. You can­not sub­mit this work for aca­demic credit; that would be cheat­ing. Con­tract cheat­ing, in fact.

We have to put this dis­claimer here be­cause the Ad­ver­tis­ing Stan­dards Author­ity (ASA) has up­held a com­plaint about the ad­ver­tis­ing used by an es­say mill in the UK.

That’s right. The ASA up­held a com­plaint from the Qual­ity As­sur­ance Agency about the ad­ver­tis­ing used by an es­say mill. The rul­ing sup­ports the con­clu­sions that we ar­rived at in a pa­per last year, in which we found that there was a pro­found mis­match be­tween the ad­ver­tis­ing used by es­say mills and the “small print” de­ployed in their terms and con­di­tions.

The QAA made a com­plaint to the ASA and the rul­ing was re­turned last week, re­fer­ring specif­i­cally to one site.

The site is one of thou­sands that of­fer to write be­spoke “cus­tom es­says” and other as­sign­ments for stu­dents in re­turn for a fee. They can, and do, pro­duce es­says on any­thing. They’re quick and cheap. This phe­nom­e­non is part of the con­cept of “con­tract cheat­ing”, wherein stu­dents get some­one else to do their work for them. Yes, you can buy es­says on…con­tract cheat­ing.

In this case, the ad­ver­tis­ing used of­fered guar­an­teed grades and a money-back guar­an­tee if the work did not meet the stan­dard. It was partly on this ba­sis that the ASA con­cluded that the site gave a “mis­lead­ing im­pres­sion…that con­sumers would be able to sub­mit pur­chased es­says as their own with­out reper­cus­sion”.

This mis­lead­ing im­pres­sion is po­ten­tially harm­ful be­cause stu­dents un­der­es­ti­mate the penal­ties im­posed by univer­si­ties for the use of an es­say mill.

The site’s “fair use” dis­claimer about not do­ing so was buried at the bot­tom of the page. This is stan­dard prac­tice for es­say mills, along with guar­an­tees that work is “pla­gia­rism-free”.

Will this rul­ing elim­i­nate con­tract cheat­ing? No. Will this rul­ing fun­da­men­tally change the be­hav­iour of es­say mills? No. How­ever, is this rul­ing a pos­i­tive step? Yes.

There is no sim­ple, sin­gle solution to con­tract cheat­ing. There are a num­ber of other things that need to be done, many of them con­tained in a for­mal guid­ance doc­u­ment from the QAA re­leased last year.

We need to im­prove the as­sign­ments that we use in higher education. We need to ed­u­cate stu­dents and staff about aca­demic in­tegrity.

We also need to change the law. His­tor­i­cally, it has been hard to iden­tify a law that specif­i­cally tar­gets providers of con­tract cheat­ing ser­vices, but we think we have come up with one, if any law­mak­ers are read­ing.

This is a step in the right di­rec­tion, but there is still a long way to go.

*Wel­come to the Dis­claimer Zone. Well done for get­ting this far; this is where the dis­claimers used by es­say mills cur­rently live. In keep­ing with that prin­ci­ple, this is not re­ally an es­say!

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