Stamping out essay writing cheats for students: some hope at last

Some of you may have noticed that I have been ranting for some time about essay (plus thesis, dissertation etc.) writing offered online so students can pay someone else to write their work – cheating.

Hellping university students to cheat

Essay mills to help students cheat: approx 250 million on Google alone

Finally here in the UK someone has taken notice of this easy rip-off for cheating students and is hoping to do something about it. To quote the BBC news website’s headline:

PayPal urged to block essay firm cheats

Will shaking a stick at PayPal deliver any real results? Not in isolation, no. But with luck, it’s a start.

An impossible task for universities and colleges

When I have asked university staffers in the UK and Canada about this problem they look at me with shock. They tell me that every student’s work is scrutinised and if a sudden improvement or change of style occurs it will be noticed and the student brought in for a stern chat.

Really? Do you seriously think you can control essay cheating along with everything else you have to do?

If it’s that hard to cheat, how come when I looked up “essay writing services” on Google just now there were “about 318,000,000 results” ? If there are 318 million of these “essay mills” in business (give or take a few duplications, so say even 250 million) to me that suggests business is booming.

As I write this there are roughly 2.4 million students going through Higher Education in the UK, in roughly 350 universities and colleges. To police subtle changes in essay writing style would cost a distinctly unaffordable sum of money, especially during these cash-strapped days in the UK.

Slaps on the wrist are just not enough

“These unscrupulous operators, increasingly and falsely marketing themselves as providing legitimate study aids, must be stopped in their tracks,” according to Douglas Blackstock, head of the UK’s Quality Assurance Association, talking to the BBC’s Mr Blackstock also warned of students being blackmailed by essay-writing firms, with demands for money under the threat of exposing the previous cheating.

Nice people, right?

As several of the other experts mentioned in Sean Coughlan’s article have stated, cheating in this way should be made illegal.

Not that this would affect most of the 250 million perpetrators who are out there in nicely anonymous locations, thumbing their noses at any legal efforts to suppress their real activity while hiding behind respectable “editing and proof-reading” services.

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The only way to make such illegality stick, is for the students who use such services to take the rap.

Sad in a way, especially for foreign students whose English isn’t very good. But if they apply for university in a country where their own mother tongue is not the number one language, they need to think about it a little harder anyway, and most universities offer them help to catch up with their English (at least they did at my son’s university.)

Snitching on your peers? No thanks. Two wrongs don’t make a right

According to UK’s The Guardian newspaper, Damian Hinds – the current UK Education Secretary – suggests that university students should report their fellow students if they suspect them of cheating.

No, sorry guys. Surely it’s the government’s and the universities’ responsibility to get to grips with the problem, rather than abdicate that responsibility to students themselves and expect them to “grass up” their friends?

Other worthies have suggested types of “honour pledge” … a voluntary agreement between students and their alma-maters-to-be that they promise not to cheat. Once again, that’s shifting the onus on to students themselves to help reduce the problem – not just to take the rap when they, personally, are caught cheating.

Punchline: wishy-washy methods of trying to stamp out a nasty practice that has been going on for years and has grown into a huge international scam-fest, are not going to work. In my view, penalties for students caught cheating through use of these essay mills should not just be a failure or expulsion from the university, but also an offence that gives them a criminal record. That may make them think twice before doing it.

What do you think?

Please share…


With many thanks for use of the image above to University Student Cliparts.




  1. I had never heard of this being rather long in the tooth. Expulsion from University seems a just punishment for cheating as does removal of a degree conferred if such cheating comes to light at a later date. I am not so sure about a criminal record however. That could be held in abeyance unless other methods prove ineffective.

    • THanks for your comment, David, and sadly this essay / dissertation etc. form of cheating is rampant. I have just Googled “essay writing services” and received 198 million results. At some universities here in the UK I’m told these companies boldly advertise their services via posters in campus canteens and nearby shops. The university staff say they scrutinise all submissions and rigorously tackle obvious cheating but consiering how many companies there are worldwide offering the service, the policing of it can’t be very effective. It’s depressing, and in my view it’s desperately unfair on students who genuinely do work hard and get their degrees honestly, rather than dishonestly.