Dissertations that are openly published on university websites are being sold to students to pass off as their work, an investigation by The Times Higher has found, writes Phil Baty.
In yet another facet of the growing plagiarism problem in higher education, one vendor on web-based auction site eBay has been selling dozens of postgraduate dissertations for as little as £10.
Masters-level dissertations written by students at Cambridge, Manchester and Wolverhampton universities have been sold after being lifted from the universities' websites.
University managers said there was little they could do to counter the scam without removing papers from the public domain and preventing "bona fide access to academic work".
The Times Higher has learnt that an eBay seller has been offering dissertations for as little as £10 for several months.
Research by a university undergraduate found that much of the work sold on eBay was openly available on the web and had been crudely altered to disguise its origins.
At least four MBA dissertations published on the website of Cambridge University's Judge Institute of Management Studies have been sold. These include a 2002 thesis by Richard Dellabarca, now commercial director of a Cambridge-based firm. Cambridge University declined to comment without further investigation.
A 2003 essay on e-commerce by Wolverhampton University MBA student Teodora Erika Uberti and seven essays written by students of the former University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology were also sold.
Jane Nelson, registrar at Wolverhampton, said that the university had been alerted and it had investigated the matter.
"It was found that the dissertation was part of a set of publications in the area of e-commerce that were made publicly available by a research group in our School of Computing and Information Technology," she said.
"Having been alerted to this case, external access to the publication in question was removed immediately and the author of the dissertation advised of the situation.
"However, in the normal course of events we would not wish to see bona fide access to academic work constrained."
Essays that earned masters degrees from Liverpool, Aberystwyth and Oxford Brookes universities - published on non-university websites, usually by authors themselves - have also been sold.