Dozens of vice-chancellors – including the UCL provost – have made a united plea for legislation to the Education Secretary in bid to combat plagiarism
Essay ‘mills’ are part of an expanding industry servicing students across higher education with surrogate writing for academic work. Students can pay for the professional editing, customisation or even complete creation of essays on any topic, often with extremely quick turnaround times. The sector has grown to such an extent in the last few years that official estimates place usage statistics at one in seven of all 2014-2018 graduates. Considered by many to be “morally dubious”, the practice is declaimed as heavily weighted against the more disadvantaged members of the student body.
Over forty vice-chancellors from universities across the country, many of whom are attached to Russell Group institutions, have signed an official letter to the Education Secretary Damian Hinds calling for an outright legislative ban on the countless essay mills operating mostly in cyberspace. Currently, private enterprises in the business of what is dubbed ‘rewriting’ are free to operate and advertise at will without restriction throughout the UK. As independent institutions, universities are free to challenge and respond to plagiarism at will, but many of the anti-cheat software packages in use fail to deliver results. UCL’s own ‘Turnitin’ programme has acquired infamy among the faculty for its startling inadequacies.
Michael Arthur was quoted by the Times stating his belief that ‘these cheat services disadvantage honest students and devalue standards in our universities”, adding “UCL fully supports the petition for essay mills to be outlawed and urges the UK government to consider following the lead of other countries in banning them.” Three commitments are requested, including that the provision of such ‘contract cheating’ services will be cut off. According to the BBC the calls for political action have made it clear that any legal response must target “those who provide the services, rather than the students who use them.”
The motivation for students to use these ‘milling’ services is a question that also needs addressing. An August study published by Swansea University revealed a 15.7% rise in ‘cheating’ between 2014 and 2018. Michael Arthur identified the crux of the matter in companies ‘preying on anxiety for profit’. Students appear to be turning to these services as a matter of stress, overwork, or both. The QAA – an independent body dedicated to policing higher education in the United Kingdom – have provided ‘recommendations’ for improving the support given to struggling students, who may feel themselves overworked or incapable of finishing degrees without aid.
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