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More than 20,000 university students buying essays and dissertations as Lords call for ban on ‘contract cheating’

student cheating

The fraudulent essay industry must be outlawed, leading academics and lords have urged as figures obtained by The Telegraph reveal that more than 20,000 students are buying professionally-written essays every year.

Research carried out by Doctor Thomas Lancaster and Robert Clarke, two of the UK’s leading experts in essay cheating, has shown that tens of thousands of students are purchasing tailor-made essays via online “essay mills” in order to circumvent plagiarism software and cheat their way to top-class degrees.

Their findings follow the release of new figures from two of the UK’s largest essay-writing services, showing that more than 20,000 students are now purchasing professional essays annually – with more than a third enrolled at Russell Group and Oxbridge universities.

Whilst universities already operate strict anti-plagiarism systems in place to detect the copying of academic texts, the process of contract cheating – students purchasing professionally-written essays to submit as their own original work – means that examiners and markers are powerless to prevent systemic foul play.

What is contract cheating?

In response to the disclosures, leading academics and peers, including Lord Storey, co-chair of the Committee on Education, Families and Young People, have launched a campaign to ban the rapidly growing industry of professional essay-writing services.

Lord Storey, who has tabled an amendment  in the Higher Education and Research Bill to make the practice illegal, told The Telegraph that “rich students” are effectively “paying their way” to a top honours degree.

“I think we’re looking at the tip of the iceberg – the true figure is probably closer to 50,000 students,” he said.

“Since I started looking at this three years ago the scale of the problem has gotten worse; we’re also now seeing an increasing number of British students buying these essays. We have to go after the companies that are doing this, but we also have to disincentive students from using these services.”

“If you look at New Zealand, where this practice is illegal, they’ve made real progress. That’s what we need to push for – so that students know that if they buy essays they will be breaking the law.”

Lord Storey (pictured) is campaigning to outlaw the practice of buying, selling and advertising bespoke essays and writing services

The campaign is backed by the independent university regulator, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, which accused essay-writing services of engaging in widespread “academic fraud.”

While a series of  Freedom of Information requests recently revealed that more than 50,000 instances of cheating have been recorded by British universities in the last three years, Doctor Thomas Lancaster, Associate Dean at Staffordshire University, said that the actual number engaged in contract cheating could be far higher.

“I think tens of thousands of students are engaged in this type of arrangement, the problem is that we don’t know the scale – because they’re not picked up for cheating and many of these companies are operating outside of the UK,” he said.

Working in collaboration with Professor Robert Clarke of Birmingham City University, Dr Lancaster has already identified 30,000 instances of students purchasing bespoke essays – many of which were obtained from India.

He added that the disproportionate number of Russell Group students involved was likely due to the high number of international students studying at top universities.

His claims follow a report published by The Telegraph last year warning that the growing number of international students studying in the UK is fuelling the industry, while a recent investigation by The Times also found that students from outside of the EU were four times more likely to cheat during their studies.

University grade inflation warning as number of students obtaining first class degrees triples in le

Among the company’s under fire for their controversial services is UK Essays, owned by Nottingham-based parent company All Answers Ltd, which told this newspaper that international students and the heavy workloads required by top universities were fuelling the company’s rapid expansion.

Providing bespoke essays and dissertations with a “guaranteed” first class grade, UK Essays charges students typical fees of £800 and £400 for original pieces of work written by hundreds of freelance and inhouse staff at its headquarters at Venture House, Nottingham.

According to the company’s CEO, Daniel Dennehy, the number of students requesting bespoke essays is increasing by about 2,000 students a year, with the company now generating turnover of £5m last year.

Mr Dennehy strongly denied that UK Essays was facilitating cheating when questioned by The Telegraph, adding that his company provided “valuable services to overworked students”.

Another is, which admitted that it sold essays to several thousand students in the UK last year – of which more than five percent were Oxbridge students. The company added that whilst its traditional customer base was mainly international students, the number of UK students had increased by a fifth since 2015.

Commenting on the figures, a spokesman for the Department for Education said: “Plagiarism is not acceptable and represents a clear threat to standards in our universities.

“We are looking closely at the issue of plagiarism in Higher Education and are having active discussions with the sector about what more can be done to tackle this unacceptable form of cheating.”

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