Universities Minister, Sam Gymiah, has called for legislative measures to be taken over the use of ‘essay mills’ following the submission of a letter addressed to Education Secretary, Damian Hinds. The letter, co-signed by 46 university chiefs, also called for banning the advertisement of such services in spaces such as campuses.
Leading websites offering services to UK-based students such as EduBirdie, BoomEssays and OxEssays offer various “plagiarism free” services based on essay length and the time in which it is due. Prices of a first year 2,000 word essay to be completed within two weeks start at £91, doubling to £182 if the work is due in 12 hours.
A similar problem has been noted elsewhere too, with Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and 17 US states either introducing, or having already introduced, bans on such websites. Whether or not the UK will follow suit is currently up for discussion, although Gyimah does not rule out the possibility of outlawing these services.
Nicola Dandrige, Chief Executive of the Office for Students, pointed out the “deeply unethical” nature of these websites, which promote academic dishonesty. The question is whether the responsibility for this issue lies with the government, or the universities.
In October 2017, a recommendation was issued to universities suggesting that limiting assessment by essays and getting to know students’ individual writing styles may help in detecting plagiarised work. A study in April of this year in Australia suggested that two of the main reasons for purchasing work from ‘essay mills’ were English being a second language and dissatisfaction with the learning environment. If students find themselves alienated in their studies, they are less likely to work hard and are therefore more likely to cheat. These findings, along with the government recommendations, suggest universities must take responsibility to limit motives and opportunities to cheat.
Government intervention, however, is not out of the question. In March, UK Essays had one of its ads banned by the Advertising Standards Agency due to misleading content, leading young people to believe it was publicly endorsed by the press. Banning these websites may not be necessary, though, as a recent student investigation for The Tab revealed that an essay that was promised to get a 2:1 only merited a Third under the scrutiny of a lecturer.
In his statement on the matter, Gymiah warned that the continued use of these websites by students will affect the reliability of British degree standards. It remains to be seen what action, if any, the government will take, and whether it intends to follow in the footsteps of other countries in this matter.