Sarah Haile discusses how essay mill websites target anxious students and why it's good we're considering the demand, as well as the supply side of this equation.
University is hard.
We expect students to know that before they go. But we know that plenty of them will understand there might be times where they're sitting at their computer at 2am with a 12pm deadline and 5000 words to write. Despite the stereotype of students being lazy and more interested in partying than studying, Higher Education (HE) professionals know that most students in this situation will be extremely stressed and anxious.
Plenty of students have effective time-management skills and will be familiar sights to staff at the HE library, as well as their tutors and lecturers. However, this doesn't necessarily mean these students aren't stressed. To ambitious students, every word must be worthy of a first-class honours degree, worthy of an average £30-40,000 worth of debt. Competition for jobs is fierce and that degree certificate may be why one person gets hired over another. It's not surprising that mental health problems in the student population due to stress and anxiety have never been higher.
This stress and need to succeed is precisely what essay mills prey on. For students feeling the strain, the idea of guaranteeing your grade and not needing to worry anymore must be tempting. Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) know this and although the consequences can be severe - up to, and including expulsion - these don't seem to deter plagiarism, including essay mills, which is a growing issue.
The use of essay mills, whilst not a new problem, has seen a significant rise in the last few years. These sites offer custom-written, paid-to-order essays; the specific essay question, the precise sources to be used and even the desired grade - all can now be personalised to a student in an aim to bypass the strict plagiarism checks in place.
The other side of essay mills is what they offer those who write for them. For academically-gifted individuals, it may seem like an easy way to make some cash, and perhaps even a relatively harmless one. One self-confessed essay mill writer states: 'I stay away from applied fields - it is my only ethical standard as a ghostwriter. I will not help a nurse to qualify on false pretences'. Many writers, however, will not hold themselves to such standards and even those that do are still contributing to students trying to get grades they did not earn, which they will attempt to use to compete for jobs and against their peers.
So, how do you solve this? Most solutions proposed so far seem to focus on fixing the 'supply', but what about the 'demand'? What about those using them?
It is possible that some students, particularly international students whose home countries may have had different approaches to citations and plagiarism, genuinely do not recognise this as a problem. The websites actively promote and guarantee 'no plagiarism' after all, which could muddy the issue if the student doesn't have a firm grasp on plagiarism and copyright to begin with. Whilst these topics are taught in HEIs, it is often only briefly and usually presented as an optional online course. A centralised and more in-depth education on plagiarism may go some way to help defeat this, ensuring students know exactly what plagiarism and copyright laws are and why they are important.
Higher Education is hard and the problems throughout the education system are complex and not easily solved; we can be sympathetic to the stress and pressure students may be going through without condoning cheating. Using essay mills is cheating, no matter what these websites claim, and they are highly damaging to everyone involved. For the sake of HE professionals, students, and businesses who will want to hire graduates with accurate qualifications, it's important that HEIs and the government recognise the complexity of this issue.
What are your experiences with essay mills and plagiarism? Does your institution have any policies in place which are particularly effective for tackling the demand for essay mills? We'd love to hear from you, so let us know what you think in the comments.
About the Author
Sarah Haile is a recent graduate from the University of Birmingham. She has recently submitted the thesis for her MRes in Medieval History and holds a BA in Ancient and Medieval History.