A booming trade in student dissertations on the internet auction website eBay could allow students to defy high-tech plagiarism detection systems, it has emerged.
An investigation by The Times Higher has found that dozens of undergraduate and graduate dissertations are being sold on the website for as little as £10 each - and some sellers blatantly suggest that current students could pass off the work as their own.
One cheeky vendor is currently offering to sell a first-class dissertation dealing with "the internet and cyber plagiarism".
Another, offering a 2004 first-class undergraduate dissertation, boasted:
"This manuscript is electronically editable so you can change and submit it as your own... most research paper websites charge $17 per page, therefore it would work out at approximately $1,400 for my project - so here's your chance to snap up the project without paying a hefty price."
Fiona Duggan, head of the sector's Plagiarism Advisory Service, admitted this week that such activity may escape the service's new multi-million plagiarism detection software, which has recently been rolled out across the sector with the help of a Government subsidy.
The detection software electronically matches each student's work with thousands of essays and papers available on the internet and reveals how much is copied.
But the software does not monitor e-commerce sites, and essays sold through eBay are sold privately to the highest bidder and are less likely to have ever been published in any form on the internet.
A search of the UK eBay site under the keyword "dissertation" found 20 essays for sale, including a June 2002 essay which earned first-class honours from Plymouth University, described as "a must for any undergraduate student".