Academics call for a new law to tackle undesirable ‘contract cheating’ services offered to students

Swansea University academics call for a new offence to be created in UK law which specifically targets the undesirable behaviour of companies who offer bespoke custom-written essays or other assignments to students in exchange for a fee.

The use of so-called “contract cheating” * services by students has been a source of controversy and debate within Higher Education, particularly in the last decade.

Many strategies have been proposed to address the use of “Essay Mills” and other “contract cheating” services by students and there have been calls for the use of legal approaches to tackle the problem. These calls will today see an amendment tabled to the Higher Education and Research Bill in the House of Lords, proposing that essay-writing services be outlawed.

The work came about through the involvement of Professor Phil Newton, from the Swansea University Medical School, in a project undertaken by the UK Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). They convened an expert group to examine approaches to tackling contract cheating. The group also included Lord Storey of Liverpool who is tabling today’s amendment. The findings of the QAA group included proposals to use of the UK Fraud Act to prosecute essay-writing companies. Professor Newton then teamed up with Michael Draper and Victoria Ibezim, College of Law and Criminology, Swansea University to research whether the UK Fraud Act (2006) would be an effective way to tackle some of the activities of companies providing these services in the UK. The Swansea team compared the common practices of essay writing companies, and their Terms and Conditions, with the Act.

The researchers found that all the sites examined have disclaimers regarding the use of their products but there are some obvious contradictions in the activities of the sites which undermine these disclaimers e.g. all sites offer plagiarism-free guarantees for the work and at least eight have advertising which appears to contradict their terms and conditions.

The team identified possible areas in which the Act could be used to pursue a legal case but overall concluded that such an approach is unlikely to be effective. The researchers therefore call for a new offence to be created in UK law, which specifically targets the undesirable behaviours of these companies in the UK. The amendment proposed today in the Lords aims to do just that..

Speaking about their findings Director of Swansea Academy of Inclusivity and Learner Success Michael Draper said: “As Educators our main concern is to support the best interests of students in their academic development and to uphold international standards of academic practice to ensure the integrity of the Higher Education sector. In this endeavour we welcome the adoption of effective measures, legal or otherwise and the support of colleagues from across the international academic community.”

Professor Newton was keen to emphasise that a legal approach is only one part of a broader package of proposed solutions, which also includes the use of rigorous assessment methods and the education of both staff and students.

The research “Are Essay Mills committing fraud? An analysis of their behaviours vs the 2006 Fraud Act (UK) “ has been published by the International Journal for Educational Integrity and can be found here   https://edintegrity.springeropen.com/articles/10.1007/s40979-017-0014-5

The QAA report into the issue can be found here; http://www.qaa.ac.uk/newsroom/education-deterrence-detection-how-to-tackle-the-problem-of-essay-mills#.WIeDFtTSmn8

  • * ‘Contract cheating’ refers, basically, to the outsourcing of assessments by students, to third parties who complete work on their behalf in return for a fee or some other benefit. These services offer ‘customer assignments’ of almost any form, although custom written essays appear to be the most common
  • For more information about the Swansea University College of Law and Criminology go to http://www.swansea.ac.uk/law/
  • Swansea University Medical School, established in 2004, is an internationally-recognised centre of excellence in medical research, education and innovation.  The Medical School has three main activities: learning and teaching, research, and business and innovation. Read about the history of the Medical School at http://www.scribd.com/doc/235047725/History-in-the-Making-College-of-Medicine-Swansea-University-10th-Anniversary-2004-2014

Swansea University Medical School has had spectacular success in the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014. Achievements include; joint 1st in the UK for research environment rated as 100% world-leading and 2nd in the UK for research quality in our unit of assessment, scored 100% world-leading in terms of impact and 95 % of the research submitted was assessed as world-leading (54%) or internationally excellent (41%) Find out more about the REF2014 results at https://www.scribd.com/doc/250478133/College-of-Medicine-results-in-the-Research-Excellence-Framework-REF-2014

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