Internet firms told to remove adverts as England bans essay mills

‘Essay mills are now illegal entities, and you should not carry their advertising,’ says minister’s letter to sector

April 28, 2022
Ostersund, Sweden - August 14, 2011 Close up of Google's Advertising Program's website on a computer screen.
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The Westminster government has written to internet search providers asking them to remove advertising for essay mills after legislation making contract cheating illegal became law.

With the Skills and Post-16 Education Act receiving royal assent, it is now illegal in England to offer to complete assignments or examinations for financial gain to students enrolled at a higher education provider, or to make arrangements to advertise such services.

In a letter published as the legislation passed its final hurdle, skills minister Alex Burghart tells internet service providers that “high numbers” of essay mills advertised online, with many using marketing “which indicate they are offering ‘legitimate’ academic writing support for students”.

Removing essay mill access to online advertising would “seriously hamper their efforts to target vulnerable students”, the minister writes.

“Essay mills are now illegal entities, and you should not carry their advertising. It is no longer a moral question; you will be facilitating an illegal activity. I ask you to do everything in your power to prevent the advertising of these unscrupulous practices,” the letter says.

The passing of the legislation brings England into line with other sectors that have outlawed contract cheating, including Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and several US states.

Experts have indicated that they do not expect significant numbers of prosecutions under the new law, since many essay mills are based overseas and it can be hard to trace their operators. In Australia, where legislation has been in place since 2020, there has been only one court injunction against a foreign essay mill to date.

However, academics have suggested that the legislation’s real role will be in sending a clear message that paying for help with assignments is illegal, helping to change student attitudes.

There have been calls for the UK’s devolved nations to follow suit with similar legislation against contract cheating.

Tom Yates, director of corporate affairs at the Quality Assurance Agency, which has campaigned for the UK to take action to protect academic standards, said that the new law was “an important step forward in the campaign against essay mills”.

“It will mean that universities and colleges can make clear to their students that using an essay mill means engaging with a criminal entity. QAA will continue to work closely with higher education and other institutions and with the Department for Education to address the threat posed by these unscrupulous businesses,” Mr Yates said.

“We will also continue our discussions with the other UK governments – we hope to see a similar ban applied in the other UK nations in due course. Criminalisation of essay mills is just one part of a broader sector-wide effort to protect and promote the academic integrity of UK higher education, and this work becomes ever more important as technology grows more sophisticated.”

The passing of the Skills and Post-16 Education Act also clears the way for the creation of a lifelong loan entitlement, which would allow adults to borrow funding for the equivalent of four years of post-18 education over their lifetime. Under the plans – currently being consulted on – people could use the money to study a single module or build up a full degree over time.

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