KU urged to clamp down on essay mills

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Kingston University is being urged by a new watchdog regulation to block certain websites and use smarter cheating detection software to stop students being able to “buy” their essays online.

The university standards watchdog, Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), has issued new guidance in a bid to crack down on what is believed to be a way in which thousands of students are cheating their way through universities.

Head of policy at the QAA, Gareth Crossman, said: “We know this practice of using formal ‘essay mills’ goes on, and we need to try and educate staff and students to appreciate the consequences of using them.”

Jo Johnson, the universities minister, has welcomed the new guidance from QAA, and said: “This form of cheating is unacceptable and pernicious. It not only undermines standards in our world-class universities, but devalues the hard-earned qualifications of those who don’t cheat.”

The ‘professional essay writing industry’ is growing and is estimated to be worth over £100m. The services offer to quickly complete any assignment for a fee.

A study by the QAA found that there are now more than 100 ‘essay mill’ style websites in use. The amount they charge is determined on the complexity of the essay and tightness of deadline, but a PhD dissertation can cost as much as £6,750.

In Britain it is left to individual institutions to decide their own plagiarism policies, but the QAA said it wanted a consistent approach among higher education providers to tackle the problem.

Academic Advisor at The Centre for Academic Support and Enhancement for KU, Charles Gordon-Graham, believes that students aren’t made aware of the issues surrounding plagiarism enough.

Gordon-Graham said: “A lot of students don’t really get it and it can take quite a bit of explaining. I tell them it’s really serious and you can be kicked out of university if you are caught.”

He said that the amount of plagiarism issues he’s seen has decreased since the introduction of the software, Turnitin, but more could be done.

“One case I had there were three students who had been friends at school together, and their essays were basically identical, the same mistakes. They had put references in, but I looked, and I found those mistakes on the website they’d referenced,” Gordon-Graham said.

However a spokeswomen for KU said: “The University is committed to educating its students about the principles of good academic practice and provides a number of resources that highlight what plagiarism is and how it can be avoided.”

KU lecturer, Mary Braid, holds undergraduate plagiarism hearings, and has done for six years at Kingston.

Braid explained that she has unfortunately had a few cases where there was serious plagiarism with dishonest intent.

“One student interviewed journalists in America for a practical project and when it went through Turnitin quotes showed up as word for word from another source, she therefore didn’t get her MA,” she said.

Braid believes that Turnitin should be viewed as a tool for students learning, not as the enemy that will catch you out, as you can run your own work through the system before submitting a final copy.

Nevertheless even without the software, Braid explains that most lecturers would detect when the uploaded copy is not students work.

She said: “Another student lifted a whole section of a previously published essay with no connection to the rest of her essay at all. This was easily noticed as the language suddenly changes and doesn’t link.”

A spokeswomen for Kingston University said: “The University takes academic misconduct – including cheating and plagiarism – very seriously and will always take appropriate action should a student be found to have cheated.”

“Students can receive one-to-one advice on written assignments from lecturers and Academic Skills Centres as well as advice from staff in the Learning Resources Centres. There is also a section dedicated to plagiarism on our student intranet site, MyKingston.”

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