Amid concern about the spread of essay-writing services, a firm providing “private PhD supervision” and seemingly owned by a co-owner of the Oxbridge Essays website is offering a “complete PhD service” for up to £36,000, Times Higher Education can reveal.
The London-based PhD Consultancy offers customers up to 100,000 words of “model writing assistance”. It claims on its website that it has “supervised” 3,054 PhDs, has a total of 82.6 million “words written” and has “coached” 176 vivas, also stating that “most” of its “PhD supervisors are from Oxford University and Cambridge University”.
One academic integrity expert, speaking generally, said that there was a “developing market” in services tailored to PhD students, with the trend little understood and likely to be “a real challenge” for universities.
A PhD Consultancy spokesman told Times Higher Education that “90 per cent of our work is not writing-related” and is instead focused on PhD applications, proofreading, editing, tutorials and viva preparation”.
Asked how the firm would respond to any allegation that its services could be described as “essay mill” services, the spokesman said: “We do not write essays and thus the allegation would make no sense.”
The firm is owned by Stratos Malamatinas, documents lodged with Companies House show. An individual with the same name and registered address is also one of the three owners, alongside James and Philip Malamatinas, of essay writing firm Oxbridge Essays.
Earlier this month, the Advertising Standards Authority banned statements from Oxbridge Essays’ website because they “misleadingly” implied that students could “submit purchased essays as their own without repercussions” and that almost all of its essay writers were former students or lecturers at Oxford or Cambridge.
Oxbridge Essays said that it disagreed with some of the ruling and had submitted an appeal.
The PhD Consultancy website advertises services catering for each step of a PhD student’s progress.
These include “PhD titles and proposals” priced at up to £750, including a model proposal of 1,750 to 3,000 words, and “complete PhD supervision” priced on a sliding scale according to word count and quality, topping out at £36,000 for a “publishable” thesis of 100,000 to 120,000 words in length.
"Our complete PhD service is for PhD students who would like help from the beginning to the end of the PhD process," the website says. This service includes “primary research and data collection assistance”, “50,000 to 100,000 [words] of model writing assistance”, “complete bibliography and referencing”, and “unlimited alterations and revisions”.
A “conference and journal papers” service is also advertised, priced at up to £6,000 for “published journal articles”, including a “model conference paper” of 5,000 to 10,000 words.
The PhD Consultancy’s spokesman said that the firm offers “private, supplementary PhD supervision for conscientious but neglected doctoral students”, three-quarters of whom were from overseas.
He added: “The only service that has the potential for abuse is writing assistance, and…we make explicit that all writing materials are for the purpose of illustrative models that must be used as the basis for the student’s own work.”
Of the “complete PhD service”, the spokesman said that this was “collaborative”. “With all such services, the student must conduct all of the PhD research and write the submitted thesis,” he said.
Thomas Lancaster, senior teaching fellow in Imperial College London’s department of computing and a researcher on academic integrity, said that a number of websites were diversifying and “primarily advertising their services for people wanting a PhD. That’s a change in the market.”
He described the marketing on the PhD Consultancy website as “incredibly well developed” and as “packaging up everything a student needs to be successful in a PhD in one business proposition”.
Speaking generally, Dr Lancaster said that the issue of academic integrity was a particular concern at PhD level, given that it was the gateway to an academic career and “we don’t want people becoming academics [if they] aren’t qualified”.
Cath Ellis, associate dean (education) at the University of New South Wales, delivered a conference paper focused on use of academic writing sites by PhD students at the 2017 World Conference on Research Integrity.
Speaking of the general picture, she said that the “most worrying aspects” of cases that she has examined were submission of research data to sites “for the purposes of having it ‘written’ up”, and “ordering data collection” by asking writers to conduct interviews, Dr Ellis said.
“Both of these have the potential to jeopardise research careers beyond those of the candidates ordering the work,” she added.
Dr Ellis continued: “There may be a bit of complacency amongst PhD supervisors who think it’s something that PhD students wouldn’t do – but some of them are. It’s probably not many of them – but it’s an important part of all good and responsible supervision to take this seriously and to be prepared to raise any concerns.”