Shock­ingly, al­most1 in 7 re­cent grad­u­ates ad­mits pay­ing oth­ers to write es­says — fu­elling a £100m in­dus­try. So who are the con mer­chants be­hind...

Daily Mail - - Life - by Re­becca Evans Ad­di­tional re­port­ing: STEPHANIE CONDRON

LOG­GING on to her com­puter, Kaiesha Page had a long night ahead of her. There was a 2,000word uni­ver­sity es­say on in­ter­na­tional pol­i­tics to be done.

She read the ti­tle: ‘What im­pact has the war on ter­ror had on the Mid­dle East?’ and dived in. She was con­fi­dent of a good grade. The sub­ject greatly in­ter­ests her, and it’s one on which she’s widely read.

It would take Kaiesha, 28, who is study­ing for a masters de­gree in po­lit­i­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Cardiff Uni­ver­sity, around two days to com­plete the as­sign­ment, mak­ing sure she ref­er­enced her ar­gu­ments with well­re­searched ci­ta­tions.

The prob­lem is, Kaiesha will never know what grade the pa­per gets. She will not re­ceive any feed­back, nor the sat­is­fac­tion of know­ing whether her hard work was ap­pre­ci­ated.

For the es­say was writ­ten for an­other stu­dent to sub­mit for their de­gree and pass off as their own. Kaiesha will re­ceive an £80 fee for her ef­forts, which, sim­ply put, will en­able some­one else to cheat through their de­gree.

Over the past few years, there has been an ex­plo­sion in the num­ber of on­line busi­nesses of­fer­ing es­say-writ­ing ser­vices. These are known as es­say mills, where stu­dents can pay some­one else to com­plete their course­work.

So preva­lent has the in­dus­try be­come, it is worth more than £100 mil­lion.

It is dif­fi­cult to know how many stu­dents cheat in this way but in 2016, uni­ver­si­ties watch­dog the Qual­ity As­sur­ance Agency found ap­prox­i­mately 17,000 in­stances a year.

How­ever, the fig­ure is thought to be far higher, with a re­cent study by Swansea Uni­ver­sity, based on in­ter­views with more than 54,500 stu­dents from around the world, find­ing 15.7 per cent ad­mit­ted to cheat­ing be­tween 2014 and 2018. This means about one in seven re­cent grad­u­ates may have paid some­one to do their writ­ten work for them.

Al­though uni­ver­si­ties have strict poli­cies against cheat­ing, es­say mills are sur­pris­ingly not il­le­gal and widely ad­ver­tised. There are posters and leaflets on cam­puses and nd an in­ter­net in­terof search will bring up thou­sands of firms.

These com­pa­nies ex­ploit a le­gal loop­hole, with dis­claimers say­ing they are to be used as a study guide only, while si­mul­ta­ne­ously ad­ver­tis­ing ‘guar­an­teed grades’ and ‘pla­gia­rism free’.

ALL a stu­dent has to do is give de­tails of their as­sign­ment, a word count and dead­line. They can even choose their grade; a 2: 1 un­der­grad­u­ate es­say from the cheaper sites costs around £30, but oth­ers can charge thou­sands.

For ex­am­ple, a 30,000-word PhD- level dis­ser­ta­tion on medicine costs £22,416 on UK Es­says. Many of these com­pa­nies are based abroad, in East­ern Europe, In­dia and East Africa, but there are some us­ing Bri­tish writ­ers like Kaiesha. She knows it was un­eth­i­cal but as a self-funded masters stu­dent, the money was a help.

‘I ad­mit I was naive,’ she says. ‘ I saw a writ­ing job ad­ver­tised on the re­cruit­ment web­site Peo­plePerHour. I ap­plied and then learned it was to write an aca­demic as­sign­ment. I felt as I’d al­ready ac­cepted the work, I couldn’t turn it down as I might not get fu­ture work.’

Kaiesha grad­u­ated with a first- class de­gree in his­tory from the Uni­ver­sity of Aberys­t­wyth in 2011, and, us­ing this knowl­edge, has writ­ten five es­says for other stu­dents over the past two years, on top­ics such as Bri­tish pol­i­tics and his­tory.

‘I felt bad when I re­alised what I was do­ing,’ she says.

‘As a stu­dent my­self, I can see how it’s com­pro­mis­ing the sys­tem. When I was an un­der­grad­u­ate, es­say mills weren’t heard of, but I’d never have used one any­how as I wouldn’t want to pro­duce work that wasn’t mine. It de­feats the point of study.

‘But equally I can see why peo­ple write for these com­pa­nies — it’s reg­u­lar work that fits around your own stud­ies and, with stu­dent loans mount­ing up, it’s very tempt­ing.’

Dr Thomas Lan­caster, a se­nior teach­ing fel­low in com­puter sciences at Im­pe­rial Col­lege Lon­don and a lead­ing UK ex­pert on es­say cheat­ing, says es­say mills pose a ‘mas­sive risk’ to uni­ver­si­ties’ rep­u­ta­tions.

‘We want em­ploy­ers to think we’re de­liv­er­ing skilled work­ers, not some­one who has paid some­one else to act on their be­half.

‘ It not only jeop­ar­dises aca­demic in­tegrity but there’s a risk to the pub­lic in many pro­fes­sions if peo­ple aren’t prop­erly qual­i­fied.

‘Imag­ine a nurse who mis­cal­cu­lates the amount of med­i­ca­tion be­cause she cheated her way through her de­gree. It could cost lives.

‘ There are even cases of stu­dents be­ing black­mailed by es­say mill com­pa­nies, who say: “Un­less you pay more, we will re­port you to your uni­ver­sity.” ’

As part of his re­search, Dr Lan­caster says he has al­ready iden­ti­fied 30,000 in­stances of stu­dents pur­chas­ing be­spoke es­says, from com­pa­nies all over the world. A third of these were bought by os­ten­si­bly bright, ca­pa­ble stu­dents at rus­sell Group uni­ver­si­ties — the lead­ing 24 uni­ver­si­ties in­clud­ing Cam­bridge, Ox­ford, Durham and Bris­tol.

‘I think peo­ple have al­ways found a way to cheat if they want to,’ he adds. ‘But what’s changed is the preva­lence of these ser­vices.’

There have been calls to make es­say mills il­le­gal, but as many are based over­seas, it would be dif­fi­cult to en­force.

So what can be done to pro­tect the in­tegrity of uni­ver­si­ties, and re­move temp­ta­tion from stu­dents?

Dr Lan­caster says: ‘ We should fo­cus on get­ting rid of the ad­ver­tis­ing, par­tic­u­larly on so­cial me­dia.

‘Stu­dents should also have to present and an­swer ques­tions about their work. When I stud­ied at Ox­ford, I would have three one-hour tu­to­ri­als a week and ex­ams at the end of the year. In that en­vi­ron­ment it would have been im­pos­si­ble for me to not know my stuff.’

So why do stu­dents re­sort to cheat­ing?

‘Prob­a­bly the main rea­son is pres­sure. They’re in­vest­ing a

lot of time and money. Do they risk wast­ing the £ 9,250 yearly tu­ition fee or take a gam­ble and spend £100 to pass? I can see why it is tempt­ing.’

It was this pres­sure that led Kelly Jenk­ins, 23, to pay £216 for an es­say dur­ing the fi­nal year of her de­gree in eco­nomics and fi­nance at the Uni­ver­sity of Hull in 2017.

‘I ad­mit I took the easy way out,’ she says. ‘I was study­ing for a fouryear course with a year work­ing in in­dus­try. I found re­turn­ing to academia hard and felt over­whelmed as I’d also started a new course on ac­count­ing.

‘I had an es­say, one of four for the year, on the the­ory of pos­i­tive ac­count­ing. I didn’t feel I could do it. I had a job lined up on a grad­u­ate scheme with a bank. I had to get a 2:1 or I would have lost it.’

Kelly, from Lin­colnshire, says she also strug­gled as she was work­ing 20 hours a week as a wait­ress and re­ceived no fi­nan­cial help.

‘My par­ents earned enough for me to only get the min­i­mum stu­dent loan of £8,700, which only cov­ered my rent. It was at work where I met some­one who wrote for an es­say mill. I hadn’t heard of them be­fore, so I started to re­search them.’

Even­tu­ally, Kelly set­tled on a company called the Es­say Writ­ing Ser­vice UK which, she said, had good re­views on­line. ‘I filled in an on­line form and spec­i­fied a 2:1 for £216. A first was al­most dou­ble this at £430.

‘You pay up­front. I was told I’d get my first draft in two days. You’re not told who the writer is.’

KELLY says she was dis­ap­pointed by what she re­ceived. ‘ It was clear the writer didn’t have English as their first lan­guage. There were huge para­graphs that didn’t make sense. If I’d sub­mit­ted it, it wouldn’t have been a pass.

‘I asked for changes — there weren’t enough ref­er­ences, only three in the whole piece and there was sup­posed to be three each para­graph. What came back later was no bet­ter. I started to think it wasn’t worth the ef­fort and was tak­ing longer than if I just wrote it my­self, which is what I did in the end. I didn’t get my money back.

‘I’m sure not many peo­ple do, as these com­pa­nies rely on [cus­tomers] not mak­ing a fuss be­cause they want to be dis­creet.’

Kelly says she re­grets what she did. ‘What I sub­mit­ted ended up be­ing my own work, which, now, I am glad of. I can say that I got my de­gree, and my job, with­out cheat­ing.’

Al­though some stu­dents may re­ceive an es­say good enough to sub­mit, on­line mes­sage boards are full of sim­i­lar com­plaints.

One stu­dent wrote: ‘Due to tight sched­ule I paid £ 3,000 to UK Es­says. They told me they would guar­an­tee a merit for a 10,500-word dis­ser­ta­tion. But when I got the first re­sults, it was a fail.’

An­other told how they paid £150 to an un­named es­say mill but never re­ceived the work. They were then told to pay an­other £450. They even­tu­ally paid an ex­tra £250 but never re­ceived the es­say.

He wrote: ‘I re­ceived ab­so­lutely no course­work and I paid these thugs a stag­ger­ing £400 for some­thing that hadn’t even ex­isted.’

Google says they are ‘care­ful not to limit what in­for­ma­tion peo­ple are able to find’, with a spokesman adding that in terms of their paid­for ad­verts, ‘we don’t al­low the pro­mo­tion of prod­ucts or ser­vices that are de­signed to en­able dis­hon­est be­hav­iour such as es­say writ­ing’.

One of the largest es­say-mill com­pa­nies is UK Es­says — owned by Bar­clay Lit­tle­wood, 40, who es­tab­lished it in Not­ting­ham in 2003 af­ter train­ing as a bar­ris­ter. Chief oper­at­ing of­fi­cer Daniel Den­nehy says they are pro­vid­ing a ser­vice through a le­git­i­mate busi­ness and are not there to be used as a cheat­ing tool.

‘We pro­vide 12,000 or­ders a year. There are ben­e­fits in hav­ing an ex­am­ple an­swer. The vast majority of cus­tomers use our prod­uct cor­rectly. But we’re not naive enough to say they some­times don’t.

‘Stu­dents are look­ing for help. Con­tact time at uni­ver­sity with tu­tors is down and for the money they’ve spent, stu­dents aren’t happy and are look­ing to achieve the best grade they can.’

An­other main site is Oxbridge Es­says, set up in 2005 by broth­ers James and Philip Mala­mati­nas, then aged 19 and 21, while Philip was at Birm­ing­ham Uni­ver­sity.

The company ac­tively seeks to re­cruit Oxbridge grad­u­ates and charges around £600 for a first­class un­der­grad­u­ate es­say de­liv­ered in six days.

Cam­bridge grad­u­ate Re­becca Mazie, 34, who re­ceived a 2:1 in Hu­man­i­ties in 2005 and a MPhil in 2006, wrote 15 es­says for the site be­tween 2006 and 2008.

Re­becca, orig­i­nally from Corn­wall but now liv­ing in Bei­jing, says stu­dents are ‘ short- chang­ing’ them­selves. ‘The company specif­i­cally hired Oxbridge grad­u­ates; that was their sell­ing point. They would send emails with top­ics, the num­ber of words and the fee. I got around £100 for an es­say.

‘I wrote about his­tory, art his­tory, an­thro­pol­ogy and so­ci­ol­ogy. I was work­ing full-time af­ter my de­gree in a li­brary and not mak­ing a huge amount. I had friends work­ing for es­say mills more se­ri­ously and it was their main in­come.’

At the time, Re­becca didn’t have a moral prob­lem with what she did but now feels dif­fer­ently. ‘I didn’t see it as my re­spon­si­bil­ity what peo­ple did with the es­says I wrote. I felt it was on their con­sciences whether they sub­mit­ted them as their own.

‘ Now I feel stu­dents aren’t learn­ing any­thing. They’re pay­ing more than £9,000 a year but, if you let other peo­ple write for you, what’s the point?’

With such wide­spread cheat­ing, there are grow­ing calls for some­thing to be done.

Last Septem­ber, the Rus­sell Group pub­lished a let­ter call­ing for es­say mills to be out­lawed, as they are in New Zealand, Aus­tralia and 17 U.S. states. The Ad­ver­tis­ing Stan­dards Author­ity re­cently up­held com­plaints against three es­say mills — UK Es­says, Es­say Writ­ing Ser­vice UK and Oxbridge Es­says — that the firms’ web­sites were down­play­ing the risks of stu­dents hand­ing in pur­chased es­says as their own.

SO FAR, the Govern­ment has re­sisted calls to leg­is­late against es­say mills, with Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Damian Hinds in­stead say­ing last month that he wants Google to take down ‘un­eth­i­cal’ sites in ‘ black mar­ket es­say writ­ing’ and for PayPal to stop pro­cess­ing their fees. PayPal said: ‘At PayPal, we care­fully re­view ac­counts that are flagged to us for pos­si­ble vi­o­la­tions of our poli­cies, as well as UK laws and reg­u­la­tions.

‘An in­ter­nal re­view is al­ready un­der way look­ing at the im­pli­ca­tions of es­say-writ­ing ser­vices. We would be happy to talk to the De­part­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion about their con­cerns.’

The De­part­ment for Ed­u­ca­tion says that al­though in­ter­net com­pa­nies are tak­ing steps to re­move hun­dreds of ad­verts, uni­ver­si­ties ‘have a role to play’ and should ‘ in­tro­duce hon­our codes’ for stu­dents to say they won’t cheat.

There is also hope that soft­ware, which can com­pare a stu­dent’s writ­ing against their other work to see if it is their own, will act as a de­ter­rent in the fu­ture.

But, for now, there is lit­tle way for uni­ver­sity tu­tors to know whether their stu­dents have writ­ten the es­says they are mark­ing and, ul­ti­mately, if they have earned their de­gree through hard work or de­cep­tion.

Kelly Jenk­ins asked for her name to be changed to pro­tect her cur­rent em­ploy­ment po­si­tion

Ser­vice: Kaiesha Page was paid £80 for an as­sign­ment. In­set: A typ­i­cal es­say-mill ad­vert

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