A new government-backed guidance to stop students paying for essays online to pass off as their own is now out.
Universities are urged to block essay cheat sites, detect their ads and set up adjudication panels for those alleged of academic misconduct in the document “Contracting to Cheat in Higher Education” published by university standards watchdog Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).
Other recommendations include closer inspection into “unexpected peaks” in student performance, more training for students and staff as well as using “linguistic analysis tools” to complement text-matching software.
UK Universities Minister Jo Johnson welcomed the new advice, saying:
“This form of cheating is unacceptable and pernicious. It not only undermines standards in our world-class universities, but devalues the hard-earned qualifications of those who don’t cheat.”
“I welcome the publication of this guidance and expect the new regulator, the Office for Students, to ensure that the sector implements strong policies and sanctions to address this important issue in the most robust way possible.”
The guidance aims to provide a consistent approach among UK universities to handle the problem, even though it is up to the individual institutions to come up with their own policies on plagiarism.
Passing off someone else’s work as one’s own is considered plagiarism, a serious academic misconduct – it does not matter whether it was done with or without intention. Students caught plagiarising face penalties such as having to re-do the assignments and in more serious cases, suspension and expulsion.
Using essay mills represent a specific type of plagiarism. The QAA terms it “contract cheating” which means “a form of cheating where a student submits work to a higher education provider for assessment, where they have used one or more of a range of services provided by a third party, and such input is not permitted. The contract with the student can include payment or other favours, but this is not always the case.”
These “third party services” are big business in the country. An investigation by QAA last year found hundreds of essay mill companies in operation, offering as little as GBP15 (US$19.7) to almost GBP7,000 (US$9,179.70) for a PhD dissertation.
QAA chief executive Douglas Blackstock says:
“It is important that students are not duped by these unscrupulous essay companies.”
“Paying someone else to write essays is wrong and could damage their career. Education providers should take appropriate action to tackle and prevent this kind of abuse.”
But academic dons told The Guardian more must be done, such as pushing Parliament to make these companies illegal and really understanding why students are increasingly using these essay mills.
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