New laws aim to tackle 'essay mills' helping students cheat
A legal crackdown on the growing number of services writing essays or other assignments for third-level students is under way.
New anti-cheating laws came into effect last week, making it illegal to provide or advertise cheating services or to publish ads promoting them.
The use of what are often known as "essay mills" that sell custom-written assignments, essays and theses, which stud-ents then submit as their own work, is rising nationally and internationally.
It is estimated there are five or six major providers as well as smaller operators in the Irish market, offering services from post-Leaving Cert courses up to PhD level.
Rates vary depending on quality, word count and deadline. One Irish service charges €15 for 300 words and up to €150 for 2,500 words.
Another company selling into Ireland charges €305 for a 2,500-word PhD essay delivered in 10 days or about €540 for a three-hour turnaround.
One UK report suggests that up to one in seven (14pc) graduates may have paid someone to undertake an assignment for them, and research in Australia puts it at six to 10pc of students.
The problem of academic cheating has moved beyond plagiarism, where students adopt a "cut and paste" approach to someone else's work, which may be picked up by detection software used by colleges.
Now, contractors offer bespoke essays or theses and claim they are plagiarism-free on the basis that they are original pieces of work. It can be impossible to establish that it is not the work of the student.
The facilitation of cheating by essay mills has been recog- nised by state agency Qual-ity and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) as a growing threat to the integrity of Irish higher education. It requested the new powers of prosecution as part of wider legislative changes.
Ireland is one of the first countries to introduce legislation to tackle the problem, and QQI is moving rapidly to enforce the new provisions.
It is planning communications campaigns targeting providers, learners, advertisers and publishers to inform them of the new legislation.
The agency has also set up a National Academic Integrity Network, comprising representatives of all public and private third-level colleges and student representatives, with a view to creating a collaborative approach to the problem.
The network had its first meeting in Dublin yesterday, when it was addressed by Prof Michael Draper, of Swansea University, and Prof Cath Ellis, of the University of New South Wales.
They both have experience in the area of contract cheating and essay mills.