Essay mills set to be outlawed in England – at last

Amendment to skills bill would criminalise providing, arranging or advertising cheating services

October 5, 2021
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Contract cheating is set to be outlawed in England, in a victory for politicians and sector leaders who have long pushed for action against essay mills.

The Department for Education said that it would introduce an amendment to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which is currently working its way through Parliament, that would make it a criminal offence to “provide, arrange or advertise…cheating services for financial gain to students taking a qualification at any institution in England providing post-16 education, including universities”.

Sector agencies such as the Quality Assurance Agency and Universities UK have published guidance for institutions on how to combat essay mills and make students aware of the risks of using them for assignments. But critics have long argued that, without legislation, the sites would continue to flourish in the UK.

Until now, the Westminster government has proved reluctant to legislate on the issue, despite other countries – such as Australia, New Zealand and Ireland – introducing their own laws.

An amendment to the 2017 Higher Education and Research Bill by Lord Storey, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman in the House of Lords, was rejected, and backbench bills proposed by Lord Storey and Chris Skidmore, the former universities minister, have previously failed to progress.

However, the last Conservative election manifesto included a commitment to tackling essay mills and reports that the sites have been ramping up their efforts to entice students to use their services throughout the pandemic have added to the urgency. The QAA said that there were 932 contract cheating websites operating in the UK earlier this year, up from 635 in June 2018.

Alex Burghart, the skills minister, said that essay mills were “completely unethical and profit by undermining the hard work most students do”.

The amendment will be added to the bill when it enters the report stage in the House of Lords on 12 October.

Lord Storey told Times Higher Education that “essay mills have been like a cancer to our higher education sector and compromised the academic integrity of our universities”.

“The Lib Dems have for the last four years been urging government to tackle the scourge of essay mills and contract cheating by bringing forward legislation,” he said.

“After three private member’s bills from myself, they have finally taken notice and supported our efforts to get legislation through Parliament.”

A separate amendment will “give equality to technical education in careers advice in schools, so all pupils understand the wide range of career routes and training available to them, such as apprenticeships, T Levels or traineeships, not just a traditional academic route,” the DfE added.

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Reader's comments (3)

About time too. However, the legislation needs to cover all those involved in providing so called "support" and "assistance" to students to improve their essays and course work, when in reality they supply "model" essays and answers and enable students to pass off the good work of others as their own. We need some early, successful prosecutions to get the message across to those who seek to undermine a fair assessment framework by submitting "fake" work. Penalties need to be in place for both those who sell and buy the essays and other materials so this type of fraud can be prevented.
Thank you, United Kingdom Parliament, for leading the way to help students learn their coursework.
A welcome step, but let's see whether this actually leads to prosecutions and a tangible impact on the supply side of contract cheating