“Cheaters never prosper”. Provocation of cheating by Essay Mills is to be criminalised.

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BBC News published an article last week confirming that “Contract cheating [by] essay mills [are] to be made illegal in England”[1]

What are Essay Mills?

Essay mills are businesses which effectively offer to write essays for students for a fee.  It was reported by Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) for Higher Education[2] that there are well over 1000 essay mills in operation and at IBB Law we have been approached by various students who have fallen prey to blatant advertising by these businesses who offer to perform such services as ‘helping with homework’, offering ‘affordable pricing packages’ and ‘strengthening your writing’.  In Education Law, this is simply called ‘cheating’.

Higher Education Students come under a great deal of pressure which leaves them vulnerable to seeking quick solutions offered by business who exploit that vulnerability. The unashamed advertising by these companies could easily lead a student to assume this assistance was lawful.

In 2017, QAA produced guidance on ‘Contracting to Cheat in Higher Education’[3] following their report in the summer of 2016 about contract cheating amidst rising concerns within the Education sphere about this growing industry.

The impact of contract cheating is widespread, it can lead to:

  • Exclusion from the University
  • A detrimental impact on the academic integrity of an institution
  • Professional bodies employing professionals who are not suitably qualified with potentially disastrous consequences for the service users and/or public
  • Findings of dishonesty/contract cheating being reported to relevant professional bodies such as the General Medical Council (GMC) or Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA)

Other conduct issues

During the Covid-19 pandemic, with a greater need to rely on online assessments and examinations, at IBB Law we have seen an increase in enquiries relating to other conduct issues, such as:

  • Plagiarism – where a student has copied someone else’s work (with or without their knowledge) and submitted it as their own. This could be, for example, copying from a friend or copying from a website.
  • Collusion – this is work which two or more students have worked on together, contrary to the relevant institution’s rules, over and above collaborative working.

Sanctions

The sanctions for these conduct issues vary between Higher Education Institutions and according to their severity, the impact of the penalty on the student and whether there have been previous offences.  The following sanctions can be given:

  • Warning letter
  • Deduction of marks from minimal penalty to module mark of zero
  • Reduced classification of degree
  • Award a mark of zero for the academic year
  • Termination of studies.

In short, it is a welcome step that the Government has announced plans to make contract cheating illegal in England and Wales.  The proposed reforms are contained within the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill.

How can we help

In the meantime, our Team recognises that there are sometimes Extenuating Circumstances in which an individual finds themselves in a situation whereby they feel they have no option but to seek assistance to complete coursework, exams or other academic work.  These could be caused through a variety of reasons, such as:

  • Health including stress and anxiety
  • Personal circumstances
  • Deficiencies in the teaching received.

Whilst we do not condone such action, we won’t judge and we will work with students to understand their individual circumstances and find the best way to present their case in line with the University’s Disciplinary or Misconduct Procedures.

We can also help you to understand what support is available, whether it would be appropriate for you to seek a short interruption to your studies whilst you deal with the personal circumstances which you have encountered, whether there are Extenuating or Mitigating Circumstances which are relevant or whether you require referral to, for example, the University’s Disability or other Support Services.

Consult our expert education law solicitors for advice on school safeguarding concerns

We offer an initial consultation for a fixed fee of £250 + VAT to discuss your child’s situation and provide clear, practical advice on your options. This consultation can take place over the phone or via video conferencing to suit you.

To book your initial consultation or to find out more about how we can help with concerns about safeguarding in schools, please contact Salima Mawji or Celia Whittuck.

 

[1] Essay mills: ‘Contract cheating’ to be made illegal in England – BBC News

[2] Proposed ban on essay mills in England – a welcome move in tackling contract cheating (qaa.ac.uk)

[3] Plagiarism in Higher Education – Custom essay writing services: an exploration and next steps for the UK higher education sector: www.qaa.ac.uk/publications/information-and-guidance/publication/?PubID=3107