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- Two “Essay Mills” claim that they have had customers from Lancaster who have submitted fraudulent essays without consequence.
- One company claims to use TurnItIn software to ensure plagiarism will not be detected.
- But the ghost-writers are not always from the right discipline, and some aren’t even graduates.
- University says: “Conscious, pre-mediated cheating is regarded as a serious breach of the core values of the University.”
Two Essay Mills have claimed that they have written essays for Lancaster University students. They both confirmed that none of their clients had been detected for using these services.
An Essay Mill is a company that writes a student’s essay for a fee, that can then be submitted as the student’s own work. It is also known as “contract cheating”.
Jeff, a Manager for one such company, said that his company offered two services: admissions consulting and coursework.
“If someone were in their third year of study and wanted to go for further study like a Masters Degree, then we could certainly help in terms of putting the application together,” he told SCAN. He said that his company could do anything from proof-read an application to write one from scratch.
He said that his company could also provide an array of services for coursework essays: “whether it’s essay proof-reading, editing or actually putting together the essays.”
Although Jeff insisted that “our essays are just used for research and reference only,” he was clear that this was only advice to students – each essay is unique and plagiarism free: “it’s all original in terms of what we do. We do know that some students don’t follow what we tell them and some of them actually do send it in.”
“We’ve had some clients from Lancaster,” he told SCAN “some of them have been referred to by people they know from back home who are studying somewhere else.” He said that more international students paid for proof-reading services, but a roughly equal number of international and home students paid for essays written from scratch.
Jeff said that he knew students were submitting essays written by his company as if they were their own. But, he points out, nobody has ever been caught. He claims: “we haven’t had anyone coming back and telling us that they’ve had any issues. So we actually haven’t had that problem.”
Jeff revealed that the ‘ghost-writers’ who are producing the paid-for essays are often recent graduates – but in some cases it is a third year who is close to graduating. This means that a contracted essay may be written by someone with no qualifications in the subject.
SCAN also spoke to Amelia – a writer for another Essay Mill company that claims to be “the UK’s most popular dissertation writing service”. Their website offers an array of services, from undergraduate coursework up to PHD Thesis.
She said she had a Masters Degree in International Business and Finance from Brunel University – but said she could write coursework for a student on virtually any topic. “Frankly speaking,” she told SCAN “I am a professional writer and have been doing academic writing for 5 years now.” She says it is not difficult to write essays about topics she knows nothing about: “it’s a skill you can develop.”
She claimed to have written essays for Lancaster University students, but would not give a number, and said that no student had ever been caught cheating. She also claimed that she had access to TurnItIn – the University’s plagiarism detection software – and could run the essay through to ensure it would not be flagged.
When SCAN approached her to write a 2000-word second year linguistics essay, she said that she would be able to do it (despite having no qualifications in linguistics) at a cost of £190.
On the topic of the ethics of Contract Cheating, Amelia said that: “we only help students who really need help” and she said it was acceptable “in certain cases, where students are not native and do not understand supervisor’s expectations. Students who are from non-English speaking countries really need help, where students have all the necessary knowledge but when it comes to putting it on paper it is difficult for them.” Indeed, she said she had “very rarely” helped a native-speaking student.
However, in conversation, Amelia’s grasp of English was not excellent and filled with misunderstandings and grammatical lapses. She claimed to be native speaker of English, she refused to speak on the phone. When questioned about her claim to be a native speaker of English, she responded: “why so what happened”.
Despite no guarantees about the quality of the final essay – the practice of Contract Cheating is growing, with The Telegraph claiming 20,000 students in the UK have used an Essay Mill. Indeed, SCAN’s investigation suggests it has spread to Lancaster. However – students who use these services remain undetected, and plagiarism software such as TurnItIn is being exploited by the Essay Mills to ensure it stays that way.
The University said that “Lancaster University takes the protection of the standards of its awards very seriously and is committed to ensuring that its students receive due credit for the work they submit for assessment. Conscious, pre-mediated cheating is regarded as a serious breach of the core values of the University.”
The University did not comment on the prevalence of contract-cheating and did not say whether any students had been detected, or whether there was a system in place to detect the use of essay mills. A 2016 study by Lisa Lines found that use of essay mills was “virtually undetectable by academics.”
Lancaster University Students’ Union VP Education, Nick Dearman, said: “Clearly it’s deeply concerning if any student resorts to cheating in any form, including by paying others to write essays for them.
“If students feel they are struggling to meet the requirements of their course for any reason there is always support available for them, either through their department, The Base or the students’ union.”
“Anyone who cheats, regardless of the reason, shows a huge amount of disrespect to the vast majority of students who work so hard to gain their qualifications.”