QAA unveils crackdown on ‘unscrupulous’ essay mills

Watchdog’s new guidelines aim to stop ‘contract cheating’ on campus

October 9, 2017
Collection of bound essays piled high
Source: iStock

Universities will be asked to ban essay mills from advertising on campus as part of a crackdown on “contract cheating”.

Under new guidelines published by the Quality Assurance Agency on 9 October, the universities standards watchdog will make institutions take a tougher line on “unscrupulous essay companies”.

It follows an investigation by the QAA last year, which found that hundreds of companies were producing work for students to pass off as their own. It estimated that about 17,000 students a year were caught using these services each year in the UK, although the number actually using these sites was likely to be far higher.

Under the new recommendations by the QAA, universities will be urged to:

- ban essay mill sites from advertising on university premises and block online advertising

- advise students on the risks of cheating, including how academic misconduct will be reported to professional bodies

- offer support for students to help them develop independent study skills

- use a range of assessment methods to limit opportunities for cheating

- use smarter detection, including new software and greater familiarity with students’ personal styles and capabilities

The advice was welcomed by universities minister Jo Johnson, who described contract cheating as “unacceptable and pernicious”.

“It not only undermines standards in our world-class universities, but devalues the hard-earned qualifications of those who don’t cheat and, when it leads to graduates practising with inadequate professional skills, can even endanger the lives of others,” said Mr Johnson.

Douglas Blackstock, the QAA’s chief executive, said it was “important that students are not duped by these unscrupulous essay companies”.

“Paying someone else to write essays is wrong and could damage their career,” said Mr Blackstock, who said that “education providers should take appropriate action to tackle and prevent this kind of abuse.”

Universities UK, which helped produce the guidance, said that universities were increasingly engaging with students “from day one” to underline the risks of cheating and to support struggling students.

“Universities have severe penalties for students found to be submitting work that is not their own,” said a UUK spokesman.

“Such academic misconduct is a breach of an institution’s disciplinary regulations and can result in students, in serious cases, being expelled from the university,” he added.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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