Plagiarism problems on campus: where have I heard that before?

Essay-writing firm denies inconsistency in its director penning satirical novel. Paul Jump reports

January 17, 2013

An essay-writing company has strongly denied that there is any inconsistency in its owner writing a campus novel that satirises the falling standards and toleration of cheating he claims to be rife at “modern” British universities.

The eponymous hero of P.J.Vanston’s 2010 novel, Crump, is an academic at “Thames Metropolitan University” whose morale gradually ebbs away in the face of the grade inflation, toleration of cheating and obsession with international student recruitment that he finds there. The novel has sold nearly 1,000 copies.

Mr Vanston states on the Lovewriting.co.uk website that he wanted to write the book to satirise, among other things, the fact that “only a tiny fraction of the almost 10,000 [students] caught plagiarising at UK universities every year are expelled, thus encouraging and legitimising cheating”.

In one passage in the novel, a senior academic offers Crump the chance to contribute to his custom essay-writing service. “Crump knew these sites existed - and it was very difficult indeed for anyone to prove plagiarism in a student’s work if it was original and written to order because it wouldn’t show up on any plagiarism-detection software,” the passage reads.

According to his biography, Mr Vanston has been a “teacher and lecturer at schools and colleges in the UK and mainland Europe” and also runs an “academic editing company”.

That company - Swansea-based Cambridge Academic Solutions Ltd, of which Mr Vanston is the sole director - operates a website called Writemyessay.co.uk, which offers a “personalised essay-writing service”. Each essay is guaranteed to be “wholly original” and “scanned using the best and most powerful plagiarism software”.

But in a statement to Times Higher Education, Writemyessay denies that its activities promote plagiarism and insists that it is “appalled at how much plagiarism happens at universities”.

Likening its services to private tutoring, it says its essays are intended to be used as “study aids, to help [students] organise their ideas and better structure their essays”.

“Often students do not have time because they work or are single mothers, or are international students, or get little help from their universities and tutors, or just want to improve their grades as much as they can, seeing as they [students] pay so much these days,” the statement says.

It insists that the company makes it “100 per cent clear to students that they must…not hand in our editors’ work as their own”.

“Perhaps if the author [of Crump] were still a lecturer working in a dumbed-down and corrupt education system, then that would be real hypocrisy,” it adds.

It says the “scam essay company” mentioned in the novel is “not like the author’s company” and has “no plot significance at all”.

Philip Newton, unfair practice officer at Swansea University, who recently highlighted the passage of the book in a post to a Jisc mailing list, said that defenders of essay-writing services typically argued they were merely helping students with their studies.

“Ultimately, yes, the final decision to ‘cheat’ has to be made by the person submitting the work, but these companies lay the option on a plate and are a problem for everyone involved in education,” he said.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com.

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