Since 2016, it is disappointing to note that there has been increasing media attention being focused on the prevalence of “student cheating” during the development of their studies and exams. In a review published in The Times (2 January 2016), for example, it was indicated that during the previous three years “Almost 50,000 students at British universities have been caught cheating”, and in our opinion this is just the tip of the iceberg. In another article published on the same date, it is argued by the reporters that “For a desperate or lazy student, the opportunity to cheat – and get away with it – has never been greater”, due partially to the ghosting services being offered by essay mills.
There is irrefutable evidence that essay mills are contributing to the rise in ‘cheating’ by students, not least because of their failure to reinforce their own terms and conditions related to the usage of the work that students purchase. Indeed, in our view, the post-purchase services they offer to students in some cases actively encourages ‘cheating’. Evidence confirms that many students are submitting the essays as their own work, which is not only against the terms and conditions of the essay mills, but also against university rules, yet neither party appear prepared to enforce these regulations. Indeed, it is common practice for many essay mills to allow students to request amendments following tutor feedback.
However, essay mills are not the only causal factor. One could also argue that the current attitude of some students to university life, the recruitment and employment culture, higher education system, government policy, and parental influence have equally contributed to the problem.
In various media, student life is presented as representing a time of freedom and partying. This encourages some students, although by no means the majority, to seek ways to limit the amount of effort they need to apply to actual research and learning. If they have the finances, this can be achieved by cheating, perhaps purchasing the coursework they need to submit from external sources.
Recent changes in the recruitment and employment culture can also be argued to have contributed to student ‘cheating’, albeit by default rather than design. For example, employers are increasing requiring applicants to have achieved a high level of graduation, with many requesting candidates who have achieved a minimum of 2.1. Thus, this approach disadvantages those who have not secured the required grade, despite the fact that they might be equally qualified for the role being offered, if not more so.
The changes to the higher education system and government policies have also contributed to this problem. In this context, it is argued that the development of ranking systems aimed at identifying the ‘best’ university has encouraged universities to turn a blind eye to ‘cheating’ as the numbers of higher grades reported would help to improve their ratings.
Finally, there is the problem associated with parental influence. Parents naturally want their child to succeed. However, this desire for future generational success can go beyond psychological support, encouragement and motivation. In some cases, parents will be willing to provide the additional funding their child requires to succeed in his/her graduation objectives, even if this means paying for their child to get others to complete their work.
In addition to the fact that this situation places those students who commit to working hard at a disadvantage in terms of the effort and time they spend studying, there are a number of other adverse consequences related to the use of ‘cheat’ essays. Among the most critical of these outcomes is that such students are unlikely to comprehensive skills and competences that they will require to engage effectively in their chosen field of work.
Additionally, it is also unlikely that they will have learned the ethics of working hard to achieve career advancement. Furthermore, when presented with problems that require knowledge, which they should have learnt while studying at university. It is at times like these that the student’s lack of effort will be noticed by employers, which at worse could lead to the loss of his/her position in the organisation.
There are also potential consequences for the universities. In this respect, if increasing numbers of students who ‘cheat’ are found to graduate from particular universities, there is the potential that employers will question the quality and ability of graduates from these institutions, which additionally could adversely affect their future ranking.
In conclusion, we argue that it is time for the government and the university management to take action to stop this practice. In many cases, it is not difficult to identify which students are submitting work that is not their own. All it will take is a change of emphasis on the part of both of these organisations, and the will to stamp out this practice. However, one wonders whether either are prepared to really commit to such an important learning objective.