About Thomas Lancaster

I am an experienced Computer Science academic, best known for research work into academic integrity, plagiarism and contract cheating. I have held leadership positions in several universities, with specialty in student recruitment and keen interest in working in partnership with students. Please browse around the blog and the links, and feel free to leave your thoughts.
Website: http://thomaslancaster.co.uk
Thomas Lancaster has written 144 articles so far, you can find them below.


How Kenya Now Leads The World In Enabling Contract Cheating

My research into contract cheating, dating right back to when I first publicised the threat this poses to academic standards in 2006, has identified worldwide hot spots of individuals enabling contract cheating. These hot spots are international locations with essay mill companies and individual writers keen to make money by helping other people to cheat. They also represent locations where the income from enabling contract cheating is very good by local standards.

I mentioned the countries where contract cheating enabling is prevalent, such as Kenya, India and Pakistan, in this 2016 article for The Guardian. Indeed, I witnessed the growth of the essay writing industry in Kenya between 2006 and 2016, as evidenced, for instance in these 2016 slides, where I showed that the people bidding to complete low level academic work on Freelancer.com were coming mainly from India, Kenya, Pakistan and Morocco.

Contract Cheating Writers Based In Kenya

My recent paper looking at the ghost writers working internationally in the contract cheating industry found that the majority of writers for contract cheating companies were based in Kenya. The real percentage may be higher than I found, as some workers seemed to be disguising their location, perhaps pretending they were in a country their essay buyers would consider more desirable, such as the United States.

The Chronicle of Higher Education also explored contract cheating in Kenya, demonstrating what big business this type of work had become in a country where poverty is common.

In every apartment building in Nairobi, you could find two, three writers.

The Chronicle source too found writers told not to reveal that they were from Kenya and to instead pretend they were British or American. The fact that many essay mills really use writers from Kenya is a (not so well hidden) secret in the essay industry.

Academic Writing Work In Kenya Is Often Low Paid

Chloe Walker presenting at Plagiarism Across Europe 2017

I’ve previously mentioned Chloe Walker’s ongoing research into contract cheating in Kenya.

Chloe has still to formally publish her findings, but her work has explored the legitimate feel of the contract cheating industry in Kenya. That is, the participants think of their jobs as providing a service of value, not as helping people to cheat. They see themselves as working as academic writers.

The money is also good. Even writers earning as little as $2 to $3 USD per essay still look at this as being a better income than the level of money they could earn in another job.

That is, if they can get another job at all.

Kenya is a country with 35% youth unemployed. This has led to estimates from both Chloe and the Chronicle of 20,000 people in Kenya being employed as academic writers (with many more working from home to produce other types of writing, or having involvement in the wider Gig Economy).

For those at the upper levels, the rewards can be much greater. The Chronicle article shows one business, essentially a writer who subcontracted work to four trainees, earning up to $14,000 USD from contract cheating per month. That’s a figure not to be sniffed at anywhere in the world.

The situation in Kenya is not helped by corruption at the highest levels of society. In 2016, MPs in Kenya were told that they had to hold degrees before the next election (in 2017). This ruling was subsequently scrapped after it was found that it had led to MPs buying their degrees rather than putting in the work needed to gain academic qualifications legitimately.

Social Media Is Used Heavily In The Academic Writing Industry In Kenya

Getting to work as an academic writer really is a job that is in demand in Kenya. So much so that people will pay for the opportunity.

In this post, I discussed the Facebook groups selling accounts working for contract cheating providers to people who wouldn’t otherwise be eligible. One Facebook group has 1289 ads in it. Many of those both selling and buying accounts are based in Kenya.

There are private groups discussing the latest tricks to get ahead providing academic writing services that are much bigger. I’ve found a Facebook group which is “strictly for Kenyan writers only” with over 100,000 members and over 300 posts a day. Numbers like these make it look as though the number of people now employed as academic writers in Kenya may well have expanded well beyond the 20,000 figure previously discussed.

Example of a private Facebook group aimed at academic writers in Kenya with over 100,000 members

You can even find whole web sites aimed at people in Kenya keen to make money telling them how to get started as academic writers (and often selling their own guides and account set up services to take advantage of those people who are already desperate). These use such statements as:

It’s no longer a secret that many freelance writers in Kenya are now reaping big in academic writing.

Another uses typical marketing techniques designed to remove objections, in this case eliminating concerns about vocabulary that even native English speaking students would never use:

Must I know hard English words like despot, fractious, inveterate and such like tough words?

Some sites promote this essay writing work as a “side hustle“.

I won’t link directly to sites such as these, but they are very easy to find, as are the many classified ads aimed at recruiting academic writers from Kenya.

The Messages About The Workers For Contract Cheating Companies In Kenya

We need to be alert about where the push for contract cheating is coming from.

It is international in focus, particularly from countries such as Kenya, where contract cheating appears to be an important contributor to how many individuals there are able to survive.

It is a highly competitive industry that won’t go away on its own.

That is why we see such heavy social media promotion of cheating opportunities to students, spamming techniques, as well as attempts by individuals to blackmail students who use their services.

There is still a need for formal academic research about contract cheating in Kenya (and other countries), looking from the points of view of providers, students and other stakeholders.

I have a research paper idea relating to contract cheating in Kenya in mind. I’m looking forward to seeing more about what Chloe Walker (and others) have been working on.

Contract Cheating in Canada – Presentation From The International Day Of Action Against Contract Cheating

Wednesday 17 October 2018 marked the third International Day of Action Against Contract Cheating. This international series of events, designed to raise awareness and promote academic integrity, has got bigger every year.

I was thrilled to join the activity taking place at the University of Calgary, led by Sarah Eaton, to deliver a short opening keynote address for the event they held. Alas, I only joined remotely, so I didn’t get to visit, but I’m sure that will come in the future.

The slides I used are available on my SlideShare account. They are also included below.


Being a short presentation, I focused mainly of awareness raising, including examples of the scale of contract cheating in Canada and specific activity around Calgary. I also looked at the wide range of activity taking place as part of the International Day of Action, much of which is inspirational.

It is great to see so much attention being paid to the challenges raised by academic outsourcing.

Buy A PhD – Essay Mills And Contract Cheating Pricing (Infographic)

How much does it cost to buy a full PhD thesis from an academic ghost writer or an essay mill?

This infographic illustrates how much it would cost to buy a PhD of around 75,000 words.

The PhD pricing is based on the PhD providers I discussed in this post. There, you can find out more about the problem of original PhD theses available for sale on the Internet.

It is harder to fake your way to a PhD qualification than just a bachelor’s degree. You also have to plan to successfully complete a viva, or find some way of cheating the system to get away without this. Although some companies do offer training for this, it’s likely to involve an additional expense.

Some countries make the viva process even tougher by requiring the PhD to defended in public, in front of an open audience. This puts much of the burden of ensuring that the candidate is prepared back on the supervisor, as it would reflect badly on the supervisor if they sent an ill-prepared candidate out in this public setting. Perhaps the public defence approach is one that needs to be more widely considered in light of the PhD mills?

Can You Really Buy A PhD Online?

Much attention has been paid in the UK to the petition aiming to ban the advertising and provision of essay mill services. This says that you can buy a PhD for £6,750, a figure which has been floating around the media for some time.

But, is it really possible to buy a PhD online and for a price similar to this?

The answer, unfortunately, is yes.

You can definitely buy PhD level writing. And a student who is familiar with how the essay industry works can find a better value PhD thesis than that offered by a typical essay mill.

How Do You Go About Buying A PhD?

You can, of course, buy a fake PhD certificate, or use your “life experience” to get a qualification from a fake university. But such qualifications are unlikely to stand up to external scrutiny.

You might try and make connections directly with a writer and work with them.

But I suspect most people will see the type of advertising for PhD mills that appears when you search on Google. It’s hard to avoid it, as even a prospective student looking for advice about which university to study a PhD at will be hit with ads of this type.

The advertising for PhD writing services is nowhere near as advanced as for essay mills but many of the same marketing techniques are in use. You see guarantees, discounts, promises of fast turnaround times and the old favourite of “0% plagiarism“. But, with my marketing hat on, I think you can also tell that these services don’t really understand the prospective PhD market – although I’m not about to provide free consultancy for here to help them improve.

The less developed market for PhD writing services is also reflected in the cost per click prices charged by Google (the amount each advertiser pays every time someone clicks on the link). Advertising for PhD mills is generally cheap.

There are some high value keywords. For instance, Google in the UK suggests that advertisers bid between £11.22 and £20.49 per click for the search term “phd thesis” to get at the top of the first screen (the only position that really counts).

But many terms go for much less. A search term like “buy phd online” only requires a cost per click between £1.15 and £4.92. These costs are usually far lower than the equivalent terms for essays, coursework and assignments.

How Much Does A PhD Thesis Cost?

The web market for buying PhD level work is nowhere near as advanced as equivalent essay mills for undergraduate level. Many of the essay mills I checked advertise they will write PhDs, but do not have any detail or pricing information available on their website.

I did find a site which sold PhD by chapters. A 75,000 word PhD thesis would cost around £6,000, not far from the headline figure used at the start of this post. However, the site also advertised having coupons available and I suspect I could have easily have pushed that price below £5,000 had I asked for a discount in the online chat.

There are much more developed PhD mills out there. Some show understanding of the contract cheating PhD level market.

One PhD mill, for example, splits its services to match the stages of the PhD journey where a student might want to hire support.

This includes everything from help with the initial application and proposal, through to chapter writing, to tutorials and mentoring for the final viva. It also claims to offer a premium service of publishable level work, produced in collaboration with an academic expert. For that level of service, enough to build the credentials for an academic job, the 75,000 word thesis would work out at £22,500.

As my research investigating academic writers has shown, many essay mills find low priced writers and just act as an intermediary. Such budget price writers do exist at PhD level, even if they are harder to find. Presumably, some writers relish the intellectual challenge of completing advanced research as opposed to just writing basic essays.

And, you can buy a custom written PhD thesis much cheaper.

A report in the Indian media has shown that an original PhD thesis can be purchased in India for 50,000 Indian rupees (about £540), with payment in installments possible. The source claims that PhD writing offers like this one are not uncommon and that academics will moonlight as PhD writers. I also understand that similar services can often be found advertising in newspapers in India.

PhD writing requests also occasionally appear on the major freelancing sites.

A (live at the time of writing) request for a PhD thesis on English Literature, from a buyer in Pakistan, saw 7 people, mostly from India, offering to complete this in six weeks at rates between £750 and £1,500 (with an average of £1114) for 75,000 words. 4 of the 7 bidders were from India. At face value, fulfilling the request in that time does not seem realistic for anyone, but this may be enough to secure a successful PhD completion in Pakistan.

What About Buying A PhD Literature Review?

Just as one of the PhD mills advertises its approach of completing a PhD thesis in collaborative stages, a student using a freelance site may also outsource their PhD thesis chapter by chapter. This may be because they feel able to complete part of the thesis themselves, but need help with some sections, or they may use it as an opportunity to audition a writer to work with throughout the process.

Here is another freelance site example, taking bids, with 40 people from around the world offering to complete a 3,500 word literature review for a PhD thesis.

The person making the request states that they are in the UK (this information is mostly reliable as the requester is verified). They are also pricing in pounds, which is not common for people outside the UK.

They have proposed a budget between £20 and £250, with offers received between £20 and £500. The mean (average) offer is at £165 (which would be about £47 per 1000 wordswhen I looked at essay pricing, I found lots of people willing to work for £7.50 for 1000 words). Perhaps a better measure is the mode, where 17 offers are at £150 (or £43 per 1000 words).

This is a prolific group of bidders, with 4884 successfully completed jobs between them, with most coming from Kenya, Pakistan and India, but also including offers from the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and Canada.

Just looking at the bidder profiles is interesting. I even found a graduate from a university I used to work at (but not someone I knew), using his MBA as a credential, completing assignments for students and even preparing fake reference letters for them (for which the going rate is around £20 per fake reference).

It just goes to show that there are many ways to get a PhD if you’re creative about it.

Should We Focus On The PhD Contract Cheating Market

The area is very much understudied. Although I’ve provided other examples in previous academic papers and talks the amount of data available is small, so it is difficult to study this systematically.

It does appear that PhDs are easier to achieve in some countries than others. We need employers to understand that not all qualifications are equal.

I’ve often discussed how an MBA is often just seen as a stepping stone to a higher level leadership job. So, people will contract cheat here. In some places, it appears that a PhD is also considered like this.

The good news is that, if academic integrity processes are suitably robust, simply buying a PhD level thesis in the UK should not be enough for its holder to be awarded a PhD title.

The student still has a spoken viva exam to get through.

Yes, students can train for this viva (and, as I’ve shown, there are services offering to prepare them), but here examiners need to have the confidence to fail the candidate if they do not have the in-depth knowledge and understanding that is required.

It all comes down to the academic integrity of the supervisory team and examiners, along with the institutional process this sits within. And getting the right student, with the motivation and ability to complete a PhD is important too. PhD students most certainly have a role to play in preserving academic integrity.

Fake Scholarships – Why Are Students And Universities Falling For This Scam?

In the world of academic integrity, there are all kinds of scams that students (and the universities they’re associated with) have to watch out for. Some of these scams, such as the potential to be blackmailed by a contract cheating provider, are dangerous.

The fake scholarship scam is less likely to lead to blackmail than using an essay mill, but it can waste people’s time with little prospect of a return. There are dangers of personal information being shared. And, if you’re a student who successfully gains a scholarship, you might just end up with your picture plastered all over a website you’re not keen to be associated with – not good for your long term professional online presence!

These are the type of scholarship offers that you need to be wary of.

Those examples were taken straight from a list on a legitimate educational website. I deliberately haven’t linked to the site, but you can easily find many other such lists through a quick Internet search.

 

Here’s How The Scam Works

Information about this scam is widely available in underground Internet forums.

A company (usually a new website wanting more visitors) sets up a scholarship offer. This will be for a low amount of money, say a one-off payment of $500 USD.

They set up a page on their site advertising the scholarship, along with a set of conditions that a student has to meet to be eligible. This might, for example, relate to their academic performance, background or where they live. These conditions will be so tight that not many people are eligible to take part.

They’ll also set up qualifying criteria, such as for the student to write a 1000 word essay that relates to the site or the product it sells.

Most importantly, the student, when applying, gives permission for their likeness and application to be used by the site, regardless if they win the scholarship or not.

 

What Does The Scholarship Scamming Company Get Out Of This?

First of all, the company gets links to their scholarship placed on university websites. Universities want to promote scholarships to their students. This is a scholarship offer, just not of the same standard as many others, but it is difficult for universities to make a decision regarding which scholarships their students should be allowed to apply to. Hence, many of these links get accepted.

Just having a link from a respectable university site automatically makes the site being promoted seem more legitimate. That is reflected in many search engine ranking algorithms.

A higher ranking site means more visitors and more sales.

The scholarship company also gets all of the entries from students which they can use how they want. They own that content. So, if they get 100 students applying for their $500 scholarship and submitting a 1000 word essay, they are paying only $5 to publish each 1000 word essay. That’s before the value of the links. And, with that, they get to use all the student likenesses in their marketing.

Often, the $500 will not even be awarded. That’s because none of the students meet the qualifying criteria. Or the student that is selected fails to meet some later requirement, such as providing proof of their course or a suitable recommendation letter.

Some of these sites do not ever intend to award a scholarship. They just invent a winner name and use a photo of a person which can be reverse image searched to lots of websites (a similar technique used by many essay mills to provide fake testimonials).

 

Be Aware Of Educational Scams

There are so many university scams out there. It is a case of being aware.

We need to remind staff and students alike not to accept everything at face value. Scholarship scams are big business. There are even companies that will set up a scholarship page, along with all the educational links, as a service, or which will provide flyers about the fake scholarships to bring in even more business.

When combined with such issues as fake certificates and fake degrees, there’s a growing world of fake education that we have to be prepared for.

Page 1 of 29123456»1020...Last »