IT’S SO EASY TO CHEAT FOR A DE­GREE IF YOU KNOW HOW

Our re­search re­veals stu­dents can get es­says writ­ten for them

Wales On Sunday - - NEWS - THOMAS DEA­CON Re­porter thomas.dea­[email protected]­line.co.uk

AUNIVERSITY de­gree from a Bri­tish higher ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tion is a qual­i­fi­ca­tion respected across the world.

Yet our in­ves­ti­ga­tion ex­poses just how easy it is for un­der­grad­u­ates to cheat their way through parts of their course.

Em­ploy­ers ex­pect a univer­sity de­gree to guar­an­tee them an em­ployee with ex­pe­ri­ence of bring­ing to­gether in­for­ma­tion from a com­plex ar­ray of sources into a co­her­ent, well-thought through piece of work.

Yet our work sug­gests it may just guar­an­tee the em­ployee can use What­sApp and have a few hun­dred pounds to spare.

Pos­ing as a stu­dent at Cardiff Univer­sity, we dis­cov­ered how easy it was to ac­cess “es­say mill” ser­vices, how pro­fes­sional they are and how hard it is for se­nior aca­demics to spot their work.

The ser­vices promised guar­an­teed grades with dif­fer­ent rates for a first, a 2:1 or a 2:2. They say re­funds are avail­able if the grade is not achieved. They do not sim­ply dish out pre-pre­pared, pla­gia­rised work but will re­search and write in­di­vid­ual pieces for stu­dents that are all but im­pos­si­ble for aca­demic su­per­vi­sors to spot.

It is im­pos­si­ble to say for cer­tain how wide­spread such cheat­ing is but re­cent re­search from Swansea Univer­sity looked at dozens of stud­ies and found that as many as one in seven re­cent grad­u­ates may have paid some­one to un­der­take their as­sign­ment for them.

Although they are banned in the USA and New Zealand, there is no such leg­is­la­tion in the UK, and Cardiff Univer­sity is one of the respected UK aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions that have called the Gov­ern­ment to act.

A spokesman told us: “Ban­ning them would send a clear state­ment to the global higher ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor of the in­tegrity of a UK de­gree.”

He added: “Es­say mills fa­cil­i­tate cheat­ing, un­der­mine the in­tegrity of higher ed­u­ca­tion and do a dis­ser­vice to the ma­jor­ity of hon­est stu­dents.”

A quick search on pop­u­lar clas­si­fied web­site Gumtree re­vealed sev­eral ad­verts, all listed as be­ing based in Cardiff, of­fer­ing ev­ery­thing from short es­says to full dis­ser­ta­tions.

To show the full range of ser­vices these es­say mills of­fer, we posed as a first-year un­der­grad­u­ate look­ing for help with a his­tory es­say and as a third-year stu­dent look­ing for help with a dis­ser­ta­tion.

I con­tacted a se­nior lec­turer at Cardiff Univer­sity to ask for a generic es­say ti­tle first-year stu­dents might be ex­pected to tackle.

The es­say sug­gested was one many stu­dents would be fa­mil­iar with: How demo­cratic was the Athe­nian democ­racy in the clas­si­cal pe­riod?

Pos­ing as a first-year his­tory stu­dent us­ing the name Michael Pierce, I asked three ser­vices for an es­say to be writ­ten by the end of the week.

One writer advertising on Gumtree who said they had a masters de­gree said they could write the es­say in three days, charg­ing me £150 for 2,000 words.

If I failed I would be re­funded half the to­tal cost but he re­as­sured me I would “def­i­nitely” pass.

I never handed over any money for the work I asked for, but sev­eral of the writ­ers sent pre­vi­ous ex­am­ples done for other stu­dents.

All of the ex­am­ples, on a va­ri­ety of top­ics, were well writ­ten and would eas­ily pass as an au­then­tic stu­dent es­say.

Choos­ing a dis­ser­ta­tion topic, de­vel­op­ing the re­search and writ­ing it are much more com­plex and time-con­sum­ing than com­pil­ing a first-year es­say.

How­ever, there were es­say mills will­ing to quote me a price of just a few hun­dred pounds from one per­son for a 10,000-word eco­nom­ics dis­ser­ta­tion guar­an­teed to get me a first.

Speak­ing to an­other writer, it took just one hour from me ask­ing for an es­say to be writ­ten, sort­ing out all the lo­gis­tics and then be­ing in a po­si­tion to pay.

Although they ad­ver­tised them­selves as coaches, the ser­vice they of­fered was writ­ing with pay­ment in in­stal­la­tions.

The topic I had cho­sen for my dis­ser­ta­tion was around eco­nomic growth in China – what the Chi­nese lead­er­ship has called its New Silk Road project.

The first ad­ver­tiser I con­tacted of­fered to write a full 10,000-word dis­ser­ta­tion for £450.

Within a few hours, they had sent through two re­spectable dis­ser­ta­tion ti­tles. Af­ter pick­ing one (Ex­am­i­na­tion of Hous­ing Price in China: An Econo­met­ric Anal­y­sis), we got down to prices.

Ahmed, not his real name, said for each 1,000 words the price would be £140 for 1st qual­ity, £90 for 2:1 and £60 for a 2:2.

I asked what would hap­pen if I didn’t get the grade I paid for, and he quickly replied: “I will re­fund the ex­tra to be charged above [the] real grade.

He added that for ex­am­ple, if I got a 2:1 but I paid for a first I would be re­funded £50 for each 1,000 words.

He told me he of­ten writes the dis­ser­ta­tions him­self, but that he had a num­ber of “col­leagues” who worked with him.

Ahmed even sent me some pre­vi­ous sam­ples of two dis­ser­ta­tions he had pro­vided.

The whole process was very swift and ef­fi­cient. It didn’t take long for him to re­ply to my ques­tions and it felt like he’d an­swered them sev­eral times be­fore.

Af­ter rais­ing con­cerns over What­sApp, Ahmed was more than happy to talk over the phone the fol­low­ing day to go over the process.

With young chil­dren clearly heard cry­ing in the back­ground, he told me he could get the whole dis­ser­ta­tion done in around four weeks – and maybe even two to three weeks if I was in a rush. The whole pack­age would cost £450 that I could pay in four in­stal­ments.

Feed­back from lec­tur­ers as the work pro­gressed would be no prob­lem, he said.

Af­ter each of the four pay­ments he said he would pro­vide a chunk of the work so I could show my lec­turer be­fore he started on the next part.

Any com­ments they had could be in­cor­po­rated and the work re­vised.

Ahmed said he and his team have helped stu­dents for more than five years and had “lost count” of how many he had helped.

He told me he was a BA/BSC/ MBA/ re­search stu­dent and that I would be guar­an­teed at least a 2:1 grade to a first.

I con­tacted a num­ber of other ser­vices listed on Gumtree and they all fol­lowed roughly the same process.

I asked for help com­ing up with a ti­tle, and within a few hours a num­ber of choices were sent over and then the ques­tion of cost came up.

Every­one I con­tacted replied quickly and seemed keen to get my busi­ness. Af­ter telling one I would think about it, they replied a few hours later ask­ing for an up­date.

Re­search by Swansea Univer­sity has found the use of es­say mills is ris­ing across the world.

For a study pub­lished in Fron­tiers in Ed­u­ca­tion, Pro­fes­sor Phil New­ton from Swansea Univer­sity, an­a­lysed 71 sur­vey sam­ples from 65 stud­ies dat­ing back as far as 1978, cov­er­ing 54,514 par­tic­i­pants.

ROB BROWNE

A screen­grab of the What­sApp con­ver­sa­tion dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion

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