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 their 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.