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Edinburgh University invests in a company that may be helping students cheat

On 31st October, a post from the student Facebook platform ‘Edifess’ detailed that the University of Edinburgh as of January 2020 has invested £864,760 into online cooperation Chegg Inc. This is a particularly controversial move given that one of this online company’s predominant roles is helping students ‘cheat’ at their work.

So, what is Chegg Inc and why is it so controversial for the university to financially support it? Founded in 2005 and based in California, the company started selling textbooks online before moving onto more specialised services including providing pre-made flashcards, online maths problem solutions and most crucially online tutors, who will read over students’ essays for a fixed fee.

While this may sound like a lifeline to students who have painstakingly tried to solve an equation or written an essay that seems to go nowhere, it is particularly notable that all of these services in fact go against the university’s guidelines. University pages such as LEARN or MyED often make students sign an online declaration before submitting assignments, to confirm there has been no extra assistance with the work.

Indeed one quick internet search confirms the company’s dubious facilities for cheating – with the first results including questions such as, “Is using Chegg Cheating?”, “Can I get in trouble for using Chegg?” and “Can Chegg tell your school?” – the answer to all of these questions incidentally is ‘yes’.

While there have yet to be any specific cases provided by the University of Edinburgh where a student’s cheating can be clearly traced back to Chegg, students at other institutions have used the site for decidedly questionable purposes.

In April of this year, the University of Boston announced that staff were investigating whether a cohort of students had used the website to cheat in a chemistry course; additionally two hundred students from a statistics class in North Carolina State University had their papers scrutinised due to Chegg’s answer schemes.

A representative from the £11.60 a month platform stated that the site is “deeply committed to academic integrity”. However, with online learning remaining likely for the foreseeable future, and coursework and online exams replacing the strict conditions of in-person teaching, cheating seems to be becoming more readily attainable.

Many students on the anonymous Facebook group turned to the comments section of the post entitled #Edifess5287 to scrutinise why their university was investing in a company whose services it is fundamentally opposed to, questioning what the money was spent on and more pertinently, where it came from at a time of widespread contact hours being cut despite tuition fees remaining the same.

Other investments made by the University include Chipotle with £1,484,052, Netflix with £1,202,396 and JustEat with £1,118,594, all much more understandable and, incidentally, key players in the lockdown evening of an Edinburgh student.

It is crucial to note that most students will be aware of the heavy consequences of cheating in exams and coursework.

However, with 5.7 million paying customers to the online platform (30 per cent higher than their figures in 2018), it appears that Chegg is on the rise, and the University of Edinburgh may need to clarify why they seem to be aiding them.

Image: Wikipedia Commons