Senior Features writer Roo Pitt investigates the easy way to get the grades
A recent letter to the Education Secretary signed by some 40 Vice-Chancellors from across the UK called on the government to ban so called ‘Essay Mills’. The letter calls for these companies to be made illegal amid fears they are undermining the integrity of degree courses.
Using ‘Essay Mills’ and submitting the work received from them is a form of plagiarism, more specifically, contract cheating. It encompasses the use of these ‘Essay Mills’ or any unauthorised third party to conduct work or research on the student’s behalf and therefore being misrepresented as the student’s own work.
In a statement released by the University of East Anglia’s Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Neil Ward, he said: “UEA has a strict plagiarism and collusion policy in place and regularly audits our practices to ensure we take action appropriately when required. We support any initiative which ensures that students are judged fairly on work they produce. While UEA was not one of the 40 universities to write to the Education Secretary we support the initiative in principle.”
The Quality and Assurance Agency (QAA) have published recommendations focused on aiding organisations, such as universities, to tackle this issue. Arguably the most important of these is education, for both students and staff, to ensure they have the support and information required to make informed decisions.
On this the QAA recommend focusing on academic integrity through early, written, information to students whilst also providing support to students that enables them to develop essential academic skills. Acting as a pro-active preventative measure against the use of these mills, the QAA also focus their recommendations on both prevention and detection alongside policy and procedural measures that include the recording of statistics that will allow for more detailed analysis of the problem these mills pose.
It’s clear that these recommendations from the QAA are likely to be more effective at addressing the root cause of the problem that leads to students using ‘Essay Mills, however, a national approach by the government may at least help to make them more difficult to access.
Speaking to the BBC, the Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah 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.”
Jenna Chapman, Undergraduate Education Officer, said: “We would never condone or recommend that students use essay writing services, agencies who profit from exploiting students’ anxieties about their academic performance and future job prospects.
“While outlawing essay writing services might reduce their use in the short term, this issue is broader than simply banning the practice itself, because we recognise that there are a number of reasons why students might take such action. Universities need to consider the effect of high volume, clashing assessment deadlines on students, and design their curricula to reduce the stress and anxiety that this can cause. In addition, universities have a responsibility to ensure sufficient academic and personal support is available and that students are able to access these services without delay.
“Through embedding study skills and ensuring clear messages are given to students throughout the year of the support on offer if they encounter problems, universities can build students’ confidence in their own abilities and therefore reduce the likelihood that they will feel it necessary to resort to the use of an essay writing service. This is particularly important that the university supports students as students adjust to an entirely new set of academic expectations as they integrate into university life.”