A range of websites offer customised academic work that students can buy and submit as their own. So-called 'essay mills' exploit students and should not be seen as the solution to your problems.
What is contract cheating?
Contract cheating describes the practice of buying custom-made academic work (contracting out work to cheat) and submitting it as one's own, whether online or directly from a fellow student.
Essay mills refer to the websites which enable this practice. This area of plagiarism can apply to most forms of academic work, from lab reports to computer coding, as well as essays and dissertations.
When a student orders academic work, they can specify the grade they want to achieve. BUT, there is no guarantee that this is the mark they will end up with, and of course no accountability if they do not.
Essay mill websites are also known to be unscrupulous in their dealings with students. They have been known to effectively blackmail students once they have paid, threatening to report them to their institutions.
What are the consequences?
Contract cheating is academic misconduct and carries severe academic penalties. In some cases it can result in students being expelled from university.
However it is not currently illegal in the UK. Courts are traditionally unwilling to intervene in what is viewed as an academic issue and want to avoid setting a precedent of criminalising student behaviour for the university environment.
We believe that institutions should record contract cheating offences separately within their data, to differentiate between this and other forms of academic misconduct such as poor referencing, which has a different level of severity.
Where can I get support?
Essay mills target particular groups of students, and use students’ pre-existing concerns or vulnerabilities to make money.
International students are particularly targeted, but it far from being just an international student issue. However, websites play on concerns that students' English is not good enough, or that they will be caught out by unfamiliar referencing systems.
If you are struggling with academic work, always seek support from your students' union or your institution's advice services.
Student advisors are on the frontline of dealing with academic misconduct and contract cheating, representing students and holding knowledge of the issue.
If advice services are able to flag cases where students have issues of contract cheating specifically, we will be able to prevent essay from exploiting students in future.