For many students, writing a university essay involves a series of caffeine-fuelled late nights in the library. An alternative is to hire an unknown writer to do this for you. A quick Google search of “essay writing services” brings up millions of results. ‘Papercheap’ claims to be able to write (me) a 10,000-word dissertation in just 4 hours for £940, and that’s excluding the Happy Halloween discount of up to 40%. Other websites enable the client to choose the writer’s background and the standard of essay, adjusting their fees accordingly.
Research by Swansea University suggests one in seven students has outsourced work to ghost-writers over the internet. In Kenya, where the unemployment rates are high amongst young graduates, the academic writing industry is thriving. Many of their clientele are based in the UK and the US. Some graduates, unable to secure employment, have turned to academic ghost-writing full-time.
While critics regard this as cheating, there is actually no law against it in Kenya. Some companies defend their service by passing responsibility on to the client. They state that they will produce work with the proviso that the customer will not submit it under their own name, but merely use it as an inspirational guide to work from. It’s hard to believe, however, that someone would pay hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds for just a framework.
One ghost-writer interviewed for the BBC, ‘Gail’, expresses no qualms about the service she provides, describing it as a “symbiotic kind of relationship”. Another writer, ‘John’, explains how he knows people who have 5-10 accounts with ghostwriting companies, each of which pays out around $2,000 (£1,500) a fortnight, making this a lucrative profession. In fact, according to Forbes Media, the industry is worth an estimated $1 billion (£770 million) globally per year.
Some clients simply do not have the desire to write their essay and have the money to pay a ghost writer. In other cases, students trying to balance studying for their degree with holding down a full-time job. Often they have invested time in carrying out thorough research on their topics before realising they will struggle to meet a certain deadline. Unforeseen circumstances, such as illness, can make it challenging for students to finish their work independently. Other customers are perhaps non-native speakers and their motivation for approaching essay writing companies stems from trouble with the language in which they are supposed to be writing.
Ghost-writers are provided with a topic that the student has been given, before researching and writing the essay. Clients can pay £80 per page – a substantial amount – but what is the real cost of submitting work universities consider plagiarised? Investigation procedures could result in penalties ranging from marks deducted to greater sanctions including expulsion. The University of Edinburgh states that academic misconduct is punishable under the University’s Code of Student Conduct.
How can we tackle this issue in universities? Educating students and warning them of the consequences is a vital first step in discouraging academic fraud. It is worrying that some ghost-writing companies have clients paying for essays throughout the whole duration of their studies. In larger courses with minimal interaction between students and tutors, the idea that these students could slip through the net is particularly concerning. By encouraging students to discuss essays with tutors, the emergence of unfamiliar thoughts and ideas could be monitored.
The use of plagiarism checkers, such as Turnitin, is widespread at universities, and the technology is continually advancing to incorporate increasingly sophisticated detection methods. However, ‘Papercheap’, promises that “all the papers are written from zero by our writers and checked by the special plagiarism detector carefully”. With some students willing to pay for a subject expert to write an original piece of work, the problem is a difficult one.
It is all too easy to buy written-to-order essays online, but these students are missing out on mastering the very skills they’re paying the university to help them acquire. Action must be taken against ghost writing, and other forms of plagiarism, which devalues the hard work of the vast majority students.
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