Ministers concerned about the growing scale of cheating at university have announced a crackdown on so-called “essay mill” websites that provide written-to-order papers for students to submit as part of their degrees.
Jo Johnson, the universities minister, has asked student bodies and institutions for guidance to help combat “contract plagiarism”, where tens of thousands of students are believed to be buying essays for hundreds of pounds a time.
A report by the independent university regulator last summer found that essay writing websites often advertise their services to students for a fee and many promote “plagiarism-free guarantees” or essays tested against plagiarism detection software.
According to the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), there are now more than 100 essay mill websites in operation. The amount they charge is dependent on the complexity of the essay and tightness of deadline, ranging from several hundred pounds for a single essay to £6,750 for a PhD dissertation.
'It's not a victimless crime' – the murky business of buying academic essays
In Britain it is left to individual institutions to develop their own plagiarism policies. But in its research, the QAA recommended new laws to make it illegal to help students “commit acts of academic dishonesty for financial gain”, punishable with fines of up to £5,000. It suggested the UK look to New Zealand, where essay mills have been fined and their assets have been frozen.
The Guardian was on Monday able to access several websites that offered essays on most if not all degree subjects. Most sites required a name, email address and debit card details to purchase an essay, with no restriction on the area of study being requested.
On one site, buyessay.co.uk, students were required to enter the requested attainment level for the essay, the desired length and deadline as well as a description of the assignment. Most sites also asked the desired format of the essay, including line spaces and footnote style. The prices quoted to the Guardian varied from £36 for a two-page essay to £154 for 1,500 words.
The buyessay.co.uk site also carried a message saying use of the essay writing service did not constitute cheating.
The new guidance, expected to be available for the beginning of the 2017-18 teaching year, is to include tough penalties for those who use the websites and offer more information on the potential impact on students’ future careers.
Calling on universities to do more to crack down on contract plagiarism, Johnson said: “This form of cheating is unacceptable and every university should have strong policies and sanctions in place to detect and deal with it.”
Thomas Lancaster, an associate dean at Staffordshire University and one of the UK’s leading experts on essay cheating, said that while universities had anti-plagiarism software to detect copying of academic texts, they could not prevent the process of contract cheating, where students employ ghostwriters to complete new assignments.
“We think this is a substantial problem affecting universities, that students can go and pay other people to do their assignments for them,” he said.
Working in collaboration with Prof Robert Clarke of Birmingham City University, Lancaster identified at least 30,000 examples of students purchasing essays online.
“We’ve been looking at sites where students publicly post their request, but a lot of sites are hidden so that number is just a tiny proportion of all the work,” he said. “We’re confident there’s tens of millions of pounds of business going through essay mills sites every year. It’s big business.
“Advertising appears around university campuses, we observed people giving out business cards in car parks, people putting up flyers on lampposts, even sometimes getting their adverts into secure parts of university buildings.”
The sites are based all over the world, Lancaster said, and quite often the same company operates under a number of domains. “We can put legislation in place to prevent sites from operating from within the UK but they could just move overseas,” he said, adding that the focus could be placed on tackling UK-based advertising of the services on campuses, search engines and social media.
The QAA has been tasked with taking action against the online advertising of the services and to work with international agencies to tackle the problem.
Meanwhile, an amendment has been proposed by Lord Storey, co-chair of the committee on education, families and young people, to the higher education and research bill that would make it an offence to provide or advertise cheating services.
“It’s not illegal for sites to offer to write model essays, it’s not illegal for somebody to buy an essay, but of course if they buy an essay, hand it in, and get a degree they don’t deserve and use that degree to get a job, then there is some kind of fraudulent transaction going on there,” Lancaster said. “I do think universities should do more to tackle essay mills and work with students but universities also need support from the government and a legal framework, it’s a two-way street.”
The government’s move also comes a month after researchers at Swansea University recommended the state bring in tougher new regulations to impose fines on essay mills after concluding the 2006 Fraud Act was unlikely to be effective in tackling the issue, largely due to disclaimers and caveats used by the companies.
“We would hope that a legal approach would at least act as a deterrent to would-be users of these services and serve as a lever to change behaviour,” Michael Draper and Philip Newton, co-authors of the report, wrote in a blogpost.
“However, legal changes alone are not the answer to this problem. We need to ensure that assessments are rigorous and less open to completion by a third party ... we need to make sure it is preferable for students to ‘do the right thing’.”
Ian Kimber, QAA’s director of universities, quality enhancement and standards, said: “Essay mills are a major challenge for universities and colleges because, unlike other forms of cheating, the practice is notoriously difficult to detect.”
Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK, emphasised that submitting work written by someone else constituted cheating, and said she would continue to work with QAA and the National Union of Students to update sector guidance in the area.
“Universities have severe penalties for students found to be submitting work that is not their own,” Goodfellow added. “Such academic misconduct is a breach of an institution’s disciplinary regulations and can result in students, in serious cases, being expelled from the university.”
Where the money actually goes.
A 9.99$ purchase from iTunes nets the artist 0.94 cents. Itunes gets 3.70$ and the record company gets 5.35$. A musician needs to sell 12,399 songs on iTunes a month to make the wages of a McDonalds employee. That is .09 cents for each individual song. Streaming music instead? Listeners on Spotify would have to stream a song 4,053,110 times for an artist to earn a salary equal to minimum wage.
Nothing you can really do about it, no ones else is that I see.
The government knows we're doing it, but they aren't busting down my door as soon as I click the download button. And the way I see it, not everyone can just walk into the store to buy an album just to get two songs off of it. Plus, in the end, iTunes makes you spend a lot also. You don't see the artists flipping out because people are downloading their songs for free. I bet they get lots more money from concerts and items (t-shirts, etc.). And you can't just go and arrest the people who do download illegally, you'd need to put a prison on the moon to fit them all.
If music downloads became illegal, we would have to buy CDs instead, and important businesses like iTunes and the mp3 section of Amazon would be shut down. CDs are already almost obsolete, and there's no reason to make music downloads illegal. It's even convenient since you can easily find different music, you can buy single songs instead of an entire album, and it's impossible for things to sell out, unlike physical CDs. The government has no business telling us what we can download anyway.
Accessibility to download generates revenue
Downloading music should not be illegal. So many people discover artists through the free music they've gotten on the internet! Technology has gotten to the point that artists can't prevent their music from being uploaded, downloaded and exchanged. If those downloading music get it for free, they are much more likely to attend concerts, buy merchandise and support the artists in other ways. The recording industry has made purchasing music legally very expensive. Artists should give their music away with purchases of merchandise, or allow for people to pay what they feel the music is worth, if they are concerned about profit loss.
You can't stop illegal downloading.
It's like Prohibition in the 20's and 30's; people will find a way around it. You can't quell human ingenuity without total brainwashing or government control. There are so many people in the world now that oppose legislation to put harsher controls on internet downloading, etc...it's impossible to stop.
NO. Downloading Movies & Music Should NOT Be Illegal!
The government only prints a certain amount of money and most of this money doesn't go to the common man, it goes to billionaire companies and corporations. How is it fair, scratch that, life obviously ISN'T fair, but how is it LEGAL that a few billionaires pull stupid stunts that mess up the Earth even more, but we still have homeless people and starving children in the world? They have a big enough slice of the cake, they can afford to lose a few crumbs.
No, downloading music should not be illegal. The way music is made available to the public has changed drastically. In the days when vinyl records were the popular format, record companies made huge profits recording and releasing music. As technology and the Internet advanced, music went to CD’s then mp3. The change to CD’s made huge dents in the record company’s profits and the move to mp3 has affected them even more. Record companies would probably like to see downloading made illegal, but it is not likely to happen. Most music now days is downloaded from the Internet. This won’t change unless something drastic happens to the Internet.
There are so many other things similar to this.
Why is it that only downloading music is illegal, if we cant download the music we want, why can you take pictures off of websites and Google,in reality that is plagiarism. By downloading music is in fact not plagiarism, it tells us the date and author, does your pictures? Hmm
No downloading music should not be illegal.
Many people just buy albums and things. Theres a better way to get the songs you want without having to pay anything. Downloading music might shut down industries and famous music stores, but think to yourself; do we really need those industries and music stores. You would think many people would side against me if i'm wrong, but even i don't buy any albums because if you want to hear a song or the whole album you could just go to Youtube and find every music video and album you want to hear. People just waste their money when they buy albums for lets say One direction when you could just get all the music you want from the internet. Nowadays, since theres so much technology, people don't really care THAT much about if you download anything from the internet that is illegal. Unless you get caught. This also goes for movies. Many people, including I, download movies from the internet.. Except that i dont do it illegally. Theres just no point in going and buying the movie because you only need to watch that movie once. So do you really think that downloading music should be illegal?
There is no way it should be made illegal.
It is kind of impossible to be made illegal. If you wanted movie and music downloading to be illegal you would have to shut down the internet because piracy has already gone worldwide. Let's say the new Iron Man comes out in Canada May 4th and in Japan it comes out December 21, the country of Japan would have already uploaded it so Canada people can download it.