Bar essay mills from advertising and search engines, says QAA

Watchdog also says government should consider legislating to ban custom essay writing services

August 18, 2016
Paper mill
Source: iStock

Essay mills should be barred from advertising in public places and blocked from internet search engine results, the higher education watchdog has said.

The Quality Assurance Agency has also called on the government to consider legislating to ban custom essay writing services, amid warnings that students’ use of them poses a serious risk to academic standards.

The first major review of the issue by a sector agency, published by the QAA on 18 August, says that the scale of the problem is difficult to quantify but that the proliferation of ghostwriting websites indicates that it is a growing phenomenon.

The QAA’s report quotes research that suggests that essays can be purchased to specification online for as little as £15, with a turnaround time as short as one day, while one site offers to provide a 100,000-word PhD thesis in English literature within a week for a fee of £6,750.

In particular, international students who struggle with English-language university study but are determined to achieve a qualification “may resort to cheating”, the report says, with parental and financial pressure, poor time management and sheer laziness also cited as reasons why learners turn to essay mills.

“If students submit work that is not their own, it compromises the fairness of the assessment process, brings the validity of their qualification into question and poses a threat to the reputation of UK higher education,” said Ian Kimber, the QAA’s director of quality development. “There are also potentially serious ramifications for the public if people who falsely claim to be competent as a result of an academic award enter a profession and practise.”

The QAA is planning to lodge a formal complaint with the Advertising Standards Agency using a sample of firms that do not clearly state that their products are for research purposes only.

After the controversial appearance of posters for a website called OKessay on the London Underground this year, the QAA plans to approach other organisations that offer advertising space to ask them not to allow promotion by custom essay writing services.

The watchdog will also ask major search engines to block essay mills from their results and will also speak to universities about what they could do to limit promotion, since they could potentially restrict students’ access to such websites via institutional wi-fi and computers.

The report recommends that the government should consider introducing a criminal offence of aiding or enabling, for financial gain, individuals to commit acts of academic dishonesty. New Zealand and some US states have already introduced similar legislation.

But the QAA acknowledges that a regulatory approach could not work in isolation, since many of the essay mills examined by the watchdog appeared to be based overseas, or were difficult to trace.

Thomas Lancaster, associate head of the School of Computing, Electronics and Mathematics at Coventry University and an expert on essay mills, said that the QAA report was a “very positive move forward” but added that universities had an important role to play too, through course design.

“There are still courses that are 90 per cent essays or where staff essentially use the same assignment year-on-year,” he said. “That provides temptation for students to cheat.”

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Reader's comments (1)

I was a little disappointed with this report TBH :-( A few old tropes dragged out with little evidence to support them: International students, "lazy students", and so on. No REAL guidance or action plan, other than the hope essay mills might be made illegal. Nothing genuinely new or original to report. A stronger line is needed, such as to see to what extent essay mills are actually affecting assessment. Or what alternatives to the 'tired old essay' should be, or are being assessed. Hard questions, but ones that need asking.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Worried man wiping forehead
Two academics explain how to beat some of the typical anxieties associated with a doctoral degree
A group of flamingos and a Marabou stork

A right-wing philosopher in Texas tells John Gill how a minority of students can shut down debates and intimidate lecturers – and why he backs Trump

A face made of numbers looks over a university campus

From personalising tuition to performance management, the use of data is increasingly driving how institutions operate

students use laptops

Researchers say students who use computers score half a grade lower than those who write notes

As the country succeeds in attracting even more students from overseas, a mixture of demographics, ‘soft power’ concerns and local politics help explain its policy