Vice-Chancellor calls for tougher action against “essay mills”

By Anna Tatham

Vice-Chancellor Stuart Corbridge is among 46 university chiefs who have called for a ban on “essay mills”, amid concerns they are undermining the integrity of degree courses.

In a letter written to Education Secretary Damian Hinds, Vice-Chancellors have called new laws against those who provide commercial essay-writing services, rather than the students who use them.

“Essay mills” are companies which offer bespoke, original essays for a fee (dependent on essay subject, length and deadline), and cannot be easily detected by anti-plagiarism software.

Such services are “deeply unethical”, according to Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive of the Office for Students.

Durham University has said: “We’re proud to say our Vice-Chancellor is a signatory, as we stand with other universities who call for ban on essay-writing companies.”

The vice-chancellors want to make the services illegal to therefore stop them operating out of the UK and remove them from online search engine findings.

Up to one in seven recent graduates may have cheated by using essay mills during the last four years, according to a recent study.

Durham University’s Guidance on Procedures says any student found plagiarising may be classed as dishonest practice and may lead to expulsion from the University.

The universities minister, Sam Gyimah has said: “I expect universities to be educating students about these services and highlight the stiff, and possibly life-changing, penalties they face.

“I also want the sector to do more to grip the problem, for example by tackling advertising of these services in their institutions and finally blocking these services from sending an alarming number of emails to the inboxes of university students and staff.

“I have been working with organisations across the higher education sector to bear down on this problem and this has already resulted in the likes of YouTube removing adverts for these essay mills, but legislative options are not off the table.”

YouTube videos promoting essay-writing service EduBirdie were removed in May after a BBC investigation.

It is not illegal for a company to offer a commercial essay-writing service in the UK.

Essay mill companies are already banned in New Zealand and some parts of the United States.

There is currently an online petition calling for a change to UK law.

@annatatha

Photograph: Grace Shih-Chia Tseng via Flickr 

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