A backbench bid has been launched to outlaw essay mills in England and Wales.
The private member’s bill, being laid before Parliament by Lord Storey, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman in the House of Lords, would “make it an offence to provide or advertise cheating services for higher education assessments” for financial gain.
Essay mills, companies that write assessments for students for a fee, have become a growing global problem for higher education. A 2018 study found that as many as one in seven students worldwide admitted to using contract cheating services and that the numbers were increasing.
Some territories have already moved to outlaw essay mills, including New Zealand and several US states. The Republic of Ireland has proposed similar legislation.
Lord Storey previously proposed an amendment to the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 that would have outlawed essay mills, but it was not adopted.
“The government did say at the time that if the problem wasn’t solved by voluntary means, they would look at legislation – and it has certainly not been solved,” he said.
Last year, Sam Gyimah, who was then universities minster, said that legislative options “were not off the table” after more than 40 higher education leaders called for the government to introduce a ban.
Under Lord Storey’s higher education cheating services prohibition bill, a person would commit an offence if they provided – or arranged for someone else to provide – any service that would complete an assignment, examination or any other work that a student is required to complete personally as part of a higher education course, in return for financial gain. They would also commit an offence if they advertised any of these services.
Lord Storey told Times Higher Education that the problem of essay mills was “clearly getting worse, and the only way it is going to be curtailed is by legislation”.
“You can have voluntary codes and alert students to the dangers, but these companies are there to make profits off the back of young people, and they prey on them,” he said.
For this reason, the bill targeted the essay mills themselves and did not seek to criminalise students, Lord Storey explained.
In an online global poll conducted by THE earlier this year, 84 per cent of respondents said that they believed that essay mills should be illegal. A significant minority – 41 per cent – argued that students should be criminalised for using such contract cheating services.
Michael Draper, professor of legal studies at Swansea University, who worked on the bill, said the new offence “will not allow essay mills to simply hide behind the small print of disclaimers”.
“They must take positive steps to ensure that the essay will not be submitted as a student’s own work,” he said. “To commit the offence, a provider does not need to intend the essay to be submitted or to have knowledge that this will or may happen.”
Professor Draper added: “Unlike in Australia, where the proposal for an offence as currently drafted – controversially – will catch friends and family who assist with work, our proposal will exclude this possibility as the offence will be committed only when the provider receives a financial gain or benefit, and friends and family do not normally receive such a gain.”
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