Peer sniffs ‘real chance’ of success on UK contract cheating law

Lord Storey says he would be happy for government to take over legislation ‘as issue is more important than the politics of it’

July 2, 2021
 Police standing along a line barriers outside Downing Street as a metaphor for  a Peer sniffs ‘real chance’ of success on UK contract cheating law
Source: Getty

The backbench peer driving forward legislation to outlaw essay mills in the UK has said that the bill now has a “real chance” of succeeding.

The private member’s bill proposed by Lord Storey, the Liberal Democrat spokesman in the House of Lords, would make it an offence to “provide or advertise cheating services for higher education assessments”. Speaking at the Higher Education Policy Institute’s annual conference last month, education secretary Gavin Williamson said that the government would “like to work with Lord Storey to see if we can deliver” a law against contract cheating.

Lord Storey told Times Higher Education that he thought there was now “a real chance of getting this agreed”.

“Actually, we’ve got to get it agreed, because we’ve seen that [the use of essay mills] is spreading…It’s really important for the academic integrity of our education system,” he said.

Reports indicate that essay mills have been stepping up their efforts to target students since the Covid-19 pandemic forced learning online.

According to data from the Quality Assurance Agency, there were 932 contract cheating websites operating in the UK earlier this year, up from 881 in October 2020 and 635 in June 2018.

Other territories – including Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and several US states – have introduced legislation, prompting warnings that the UK was jeopardising the international reputation of its degrees by not following suit.

But while the UK has never ruled out legislating, the Westminster government has so far declined to push the issue to the top of the political agenda, with previous backbench bills proposed by Lord Storey and Chris Skidmore, the former universities minister, failing to progress.

Writing in The Times last month, Mr Skidmore urged the government to back Lord Storey’s latest bill, arguing that now was “the moment to act”.

“Thousands of students are being failed through a permissive culture of plagiarism that is allowed to run rife in our universities. Only legislation can keep this in check,” wrote Mr Skidmore, the Conservative MP for Kingswood.

Although governments are often reluctant to lend parliamentary time to legislation put forward by opposition parties, Lord Storey told THE that he would be happy for the government to take over his bill “because I think the issue is more important than the politics of it”.

Taking action against essay mills was included in the Conservatives’ last election manifesto. Lord Storey has tabled an amendment to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, with the same aim as his private member’s bill, providing another pathway for the government to take action.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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