Ire­land out­laws es­say mills – will UK follow suit?

Bill crim­i­nal­is­ing es­say mills could be model for UK, ex­perts sug­gest. Anna McKie re­ports

THE (Times Higher Education) - - FRONT PAGE -

The Ir­ish gov­ern­ment has an­nounced the pub­li­ca­tion of a bill that paves the way for the prose­cu­tion of es­say mills, in­clud­ing mak­ing it il­le­gal to ad­ver­tise con­tract cheat­ing ser­vices, with ob­servers urg­ing the UK’s na­tions to follow suit.

Ire­land is the lat­est coun­try tak­ing le­gal steps to tackle the grow­ing prob­lem of com­pa­nies that write es­says for stu­dents for a fee. In 2011, New Zealand made it il­le­gal to “ad­ver­tise or pro­vide third party as­sis­tance to cheat”, and there are sim­i­lar laws in 17 states in the US.

Among the pro­vi­sions of the Ir­ish bill is one for Qual­ity and Qual­i­fi­ca­tions Ire­land, the coun­try’s qual­ity as­sur­ance agency, to ini­ti­ate the prose­cu­tion of “es­say mills”.

In a state­ment to Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion, a spokesman for Ire­land’s De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion and Skills said that the new Qual­i­fi­ca­tions and Qual­ity As­sur­ance Bill will make it an of­fence to pro­vide cheat­ing ser­vices, such as writ­ing es­says for stu­dents or sit­ting their ex­ams.

It means that “those who ad­ver­tise” such ser­vices “would also com­mit an of­fence, sim­i­larly, those who pub­lish ad­ver­tise­ments in re­la­tion to [those ser­vices] would also com­mit an of­fence”, the spokesman said.

Mary Mitchell O’Con­nor, Ire­land’s min­is­ter for higher ed­u­ca­tion, said that the leg­is­la­tion “will be ini­ti­ated in the au­tumn”.

Thomas Lancaster, a se­nior teach­ing fel­low in com­put­ing at Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don, who has pub­lished re­search on es­say mills, said that the bill was “an im­por­tant devel­op­ment” in the drive to stamp them out.

“It is send­ing a strong mes­sage to providers of con­tract cheat­ing that this is not ac­cept­able, and it sends the same mes­sages to the stu­dents con­sid­er­ing us­ing th­ese meth­ods,” he said. “It means we won’t see posters [ad­ver­tis­ing es­say mills] get­ting on to cam­puses in Ire­land and there is also some power to stop search en­gines such as Google or so­cial me­dia sites such as Facebook show­ing ad­verts for es­say mills in the coun­try. Though, of course, this will not ap­ply to coun­tries out­side Ire­land that do not have leg­is­la­tion.”

Dr Lancaster added: “Con­tract cheat­ing is wide­spread, it has def­i­nitely in­creased over the past decade and the ad­ver­tis­ing is through the roof now...a bill like this would be so im­por­tant for the UK too. Peo­ple have tried to make th­ese changes here but push­ing le­gal re­sponses through is dif­fi­cult at the mo­ment.”

In 2017, an amend­ment to the now Higher Ed­u­ca­tion and Re­search Act pro­posed by the Lib­eral Demo­crat peer Lord Storey, aimed at tack­ling es­say mills, failed to make it into the leg­is­la­tion. But the Qual­ity As­sur­ance Agency re­cently con­vened a work­ing group on aca­demic in­tegrity, which will make rec­om­men­da­tions to the gov­ern­ment on how to pre­vent con­tract cheat­ing.

Gareth Cross­man, head of pol­icy and pub­lic af­fairs at the QAA, said that the group would be watch­ing Ire­land’s bill pas­sage closely. “We’ve iden­ti­fied it as a pri­or­ity work stream for the aca­demic ad­vi­sory group, with a view to see­ing if crim­i­nal sanctions can be ap­plied in the UK,” he said.

Phil New­ton, di­rec­tor of learn­ing and teach­ing at the Swansea Univer­sity Med­i­cal School, who pro­posed leg­is­la­tion to tackle es­say mills in a 2017 pa­per, said that the Ir­ish bill showed that the na­tion’s gov­ern­ment was “work­ing hard to do the right thing and learn­ing from the chal­lenges in im­ple­ment­ing laws in other coun­tries”. He added that while other coun­tries are press­ing for­ward, the UK “risks fall­ing be­hind”.

“At end of the day, you put the law on the books, even if you get it ex­actly right and even with the best will in the world, you aren’t go­ing to have dozens of pros­e­cu­tions,” Pro­fes­sor New­ton said. “But what you are go­ing to have is a con­ver­sa­tion with your stu­dents that says ‘th­ese ser­vices are il­le­gal’ and that is a very dif­fer­ent con­ver­sa­tion to the one we have now.”

He added that a sim­i­lar ad­ver­tis­ing ban in the UK would have helped to pre­vent the flurry of es­say mill ad­ver­tis­ing that popped up on

Pa­per fac­tory Ire­land is the lat­est coun­try tak­ing le­gal steps to tackle the grow­ing prob­lem of com­pa­nies that write es­says for fee

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