Universities Minister Jo Johnson is launching nationwide guidance to tackle the plagiarism problem on university campuses
Students who cheat using ‘essay mill’ websites face tough penalties under a government crackdown.
Universities Minister Jo Johnson is launching nationwide guidance to tackle the plagiarism problem on university campuses.
This could lead to growing numbers of undergraduates being expelled for serious offences in future.
At least 100 websites provide custom written essays for students to submit as part of their degrees.
At present, it is left to individual institutions to develop their own plagiarism policies in line with the UK Quality Code for Higher Education.
Mr Johnson has now told higher education watchdog the Quality Assurance Agency, Universities UK, which represents vice chancellors, and the National Union of Students to draw up guidelines to clamp down on campus cheats.
He wants the QAA to take action against the online advertising of essay mill websites, and universities to impose ‘tough new penalties’ on students who use them.
It is understood the Government expects universities to sign up to this voluntary guidance, due to be introduced for the 2017/18 academic year, to help create a standard approach across institutions in dealing with students who turn to these services.
This could involve recommending that all universities use expulsions to combat use of the websites, or that they place of marks against students’ academic records, which would prevent them studying further, such as for masters degrees.
The Department for Education has not ruled out introducing further sanctions in future such as fines or prosecution, but this would require legislation.
Mr Johnson said: ‘This form of cheating is unacceptable and every university should have strong policies and sanctions in place to detect and deal with it.
‘Essay mill websites threaten to undermine the high quality reputation of a UK degree so it is vital that the sector works together to address this in a consistent and robust way.’
The spread of essay mill websites was uncovered in a QAA report, commissioned by the Government and published last year. It warned that essay mills were a ‘growing threat to UK higher education’.
The QAA found that the websites often advertise their services to students for a fee and many promote ‘plagiarism free guarantees’ or essays tested against plagiarism detection software.
At present, it is left to individual institutions to develop their own plagiarism policies in line with the UK Quality Code for Higher Education
Prices charged by these sites vary depending on the complexity of essay and tightness of deadline.
They can range from £200 for a single essay to as high as £6,750 for a PhD dissertation. Ian Kimber, the QAA’s standards director, said: ‘Essay mills are a major challenge for universities and colleges because, unlike other forms of cheating, the practice is notoriously difficult to detect.
‘We look forward to continuing our work with the Government and sector colleagues in addressing an issue potentially damaging to students and the reputation of UK higher education.’
Universities already have penalties for students found to be submitting work that is not their own.
Such academic misconduct is a breach of an institution’s disciplinary regulations and can result in students being expelled. But there is no standard approach. The new guidance will urge universities to target essay mill cheats. Institutions will be asked to publicise better their current policies on student cheating.
Information will also be issued to students ‘about the potentially significant negative impacts on their future if they are caught cheating’.
Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK, said: ‘Universities take plagiarism and cheating extremely seriously. Submitting work written by someone else is cheating and devalues the efforts of students who work hard to achieve their degrees.
‘The higher education sector has already done a lot of work in this area and universities have become more experienced in detecting and dealing with such forms of cheating. Universities UK will work with the QAA and the NUS to update guidance in this area.