An online petition condemning the lecturers' pay dispute for damaging students' academic interests may be inadvertently encouraging undergraduates to cheat.
The website says that the boycott of exams and assessments being carried out by Association of University Teachers is "extremely unfair" and "detrimental to students' education". The petition had attracted 685 signatories as The Times Higher went to press after a word-of-mouth campaign.
But the campaign, set up by a student entrepreneur, is supported financially by several companies specialising in providing pre-written or bespoke essays to help students cheat their way to a university degree.
One advertiser boasts that its paid-for essays are custom-written and guarantees to beat electronic plagiarism detection systems. Another guarantees essays of at least a 2.1 standard.
Andy Pike, a national official at lecturers' union Natfhe, which is not handing out exam grades in its fight for higher pay, said: "It is ironic that a petition that complains of the impact of the dispute on the quality of student education should be sponsored by organisations that offer students the chance to cheat their way to a degree.
"Many will wonder if the development of such a disreputable website has been encouraged by the pathetic and unsuccessful attempts of the employers to turn students against their lecturers."
The site was set up and is run by Paul Freeman-Powell, a second-year languages student at Liverpool University. It is hosted by Mr Freeman-Powell's company, caeus.com, which offers website design and internet services.
Mr Freeman-Powell said that his company, which would not make any profit from the petition, had to carry adverts "purely to enable us to afford to run the petition in the first place".
He said that adverts were automatically displayed on the site through the search engine Google, which operates by matching relevant adverts to site content.
"I agree that sometimes, unfortunately, this system ends up providing adverts that are not appropriate to the subject matter or audience of a webpage," Mr Freeman-Powell said.
He added that he was working to filter such adverts out, although this could take "a while".
There were also concerns about the validity of the petition this week as it emerged that one signatory was Borat Sagdiyev, the fictional Kazakhstani journalist created by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.