Essay Mills and Contract Cheating

Wednesday 18th October 2017 marks the second International Day of Action against Contract Cheating, promoted by the International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI).

Contract cheating occurs when one person completes academic work, such as an essay, assignment, test or exam, for another who then submits it for academic credit. This behaviour undermines academic standards and devalues the qualifications of those who do not cheat.

In 2016, in response to serious concerns among higher education providers and from government, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) published a report on the growing threat of third parties helping students to cheat, known as custom essay writing services, or ‘essay mills’. Following this, QAA has now this month published guidance for students and universities on tackling this problem and promoting academic integrity in higher education. It sets out the steps that universities can take to deal with forms of contract cheating, and recommends:

  • clear information for students on the risks of cheating, including academic misconduct being reported to relevant professional bodies
  • support for students to develop independent study skills, including academic writing
  • using a range of assessment methods to limit opportunities for cheating
  • blocking¬†essay mill sites and taking¬†action against essay mill advertising on campus
  • smarter detection, including new software and greater familiarity with students’ personal styles and capabilities
  • appropriate support for whistle blowing – to protect accuser as well as accused
  • student involvement on academic misconduct policies and panels.

Newcastle University is committed to defending academic integrity and freedom, and will be considering how best to take account of this guidance within its own policies and procedures.

The International Center for Academic Integrity has published an institutional toolkit against contract cheating that can be downloaded here.

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