THE digital economy is helping connect people and services in ways never been previously imagined.
For many, the growth of services such as Uber and Airbnb have provided economic benefits and increased convenience.
However, while many of these online services are beneficial, the ease with which students can now hire ghostwriters to complete their homework is damaging academic standards in universities and having a detrimental impact on student achievement.
Students sharing and copying homework is nothing new. It happens in schools on a daily basis since schools and colleges began assigning homework.
When the Internet became readily available at universities, students discovered they could share essays online, or sell their previously submitted assignments via student forums.
As universities became aware of this method of cheating, they began to invest in plagiarism detection software, a move which successfully reduced the ease with which students could use the Internet to cheat.
But the establishment of online businesses dedicated to providing students with original, written-to-order assignments, has made it all too easy for students to buy and submit fraudulent assignments.
These “essay mill” businesses are creating a far bigger problem for universities as anti-plagiarism software is unable to detect when a student employs a ghostwriter to complete a new assignment.
The businesses involved in the industry are well aware of the difficulties universities face trying to identify cheating students.
The “mills” now confidently advertise “plagiarism-free guarantees”, and often provide essays which have been tested against plagiarism detection software.
These companies are becoming ever more competitive, and their websites are not ashamed to openly promote their unethical services:
– Reliability: we never miss a deadline.
– Speed: we turn your work around fast.
– Originality: all our writing is guaranteed unique.
– Confidentiality: we guarantee your privacy and anonymity.
Testimonials on the websites also indicate the students buying these written assignments are doing so with the intention of submitting them to their lecturers, as these comments indicate:
“So happy to know I don’t have to write my own papers anymore if I don’t want to. Honestly, these guys are professionals, and there is no way I’m going to slog through all that work when it’s so much easier to have a professional writing it for you.”
In the UK, it is believed there are tens of thousands of students buying written-to-order assignments each year.
There is growing concern about the threat these fraudulent assignments could have on academic standards and the reputation of British universities.
If these proposals are made law, university students caught submitting essays they bought online will be fined and receive a criminal record.
At colleges and universities in Asia, the black market essay industry is also causing problems.
In Singapore, essays and essay writing services are freely available on the website Carousell, with writers confidentially offering essays which will at least earn a B.
But it’s not just tutors and academics who are selling essays from Singapore. The city-state is also getting a reputation as an “essay mill” hub, with online businesses employing teams of digital nomads to deliver essays on request, often within last-minute deadlines.
While many of the freelancers taking these paid assignments are university graduates, they often accept work on topics for which they have only limited knowledge and experience.
This means they had to gather the data from Google and Wikipedia, hardly the type of rigorous research academic institutions are looking for.
Tempting as it may be for students to buy essays online and make their life at university that bit easier, there are important reasons for students to avoid taking such shortcuts, as the website Teaching for a change explains:
Expensive: some websites can charge extremely high fees for their services or products and expensive does not always translate to good quality.
Not always as advertised: All too often, a website will advertise a specific product or service but fail to deliver. It is easy to make claims or promises on the Internet without following through on them.
Not always the best quality: Just because someone is offering their services as tutor, it does not mean they actually know anything about writing essays.
These arguments are supported by the findings from a 2014 study by Ofqual which reported written-to-order assignments were often poorly written, riddled with basic writing and destined to receive failing grades.
Students would also do well to heed the advice of Dale Springhetti, an American teacher who has worked at universities and high schools in Asia.
He explained: “A teacher who has been paying attention to a student’s writing throughout the term would be able to notice quickly inconsistent vocabulary, sentence structure, usage with active and passive voice and overall a noticeable odd development in the student’s writing style.”
Studying through higher education is a stressful experience, with examinations and essay assignments creating some of the greatest pressures.
Paying a ghostwriter to complete these assignments does not only undermine the standards of the institutions, but is also detrimental to student achievement.
Essay assignments are set by lecturers for students to engage with the academic content on a deeper level.
These assignments provide learners with the opportunity to increase their understanding of ideas and concepts covered in their course of study.
Students who opt to not participate in these exercises are missing out on this essential aspect of the learning experience and will eventually graduate from their degree course with lower level understanding than their classmates who tackled each assignment.
It appears unlikely governments in Asia will adopt the legal frameworks to punish “contract plagiarism”, as proposed by the UK.
Therefore, it will likely remain the responsibility of educators, lecturers and universities to impress on students the importance of tackling essay assignments by themselves and avoid the temptation of “subcontracting” their homework to ghostwriters.
Daniel Maxwell is a writer and educator.