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.

The Progression Of The Exam Cheating Industry – Conference Keynote Presentation On Exam Integrity

That companies and individuals are helping students to cheat in exams is something that higher education should be concerned about. This is not just small time business. Exam cheating is an entire industry.

In a keynote presentation I gave at the Higher Education Quality Network conference, themed Assessment, Integrity, Review and held in Melbourne, Australia, I explored the issues surrounding exam cheating and the integrity of future examinations.

This is a real issue, particularly where assessment by examination is being considered as a response to plagiarism and contract cheating. There is, however, also good practice than can be gained from how exams are conducted in a professional environment.

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


So much exam cheating is supported by technology that is easily concealed. Supplying that technology is big business. It is more useful to think about alternative ways to use examinations as part of the assessment process than to try to simply react to the ever changing technology game.

Spinning Academic Integrity News Stories In The Era Of Fake News

How far do we trust what’s published as news? In this era of fake news, it’s interesting to note how article spinning and machine-based plagiarism can make even the most trustworthy news feel suspect.

(full disclosure – in the interest of making the best of use of materials, this blog post is based on two slides of a presentation I never gave)

Back in June 2015, Channel 4 Dispatches ran a story about essay mills and contract cheating, which I contributed to. A very of it ran in The Guardian.

As with so many news stories, this ended up in various versions around the Web which vaguely looked like the original. Here’s a comparison between The Guardian version and the Best Education News version.

The second version is derived from the first, presumably through some automatic method of machine-based plagiarism. This may have been completed manually, but it looks unlikely based on the strange choice of words.

Unlike many plagiarism cases, it’s very obvious which the source document was and which was plagiarised version was. The source can be identified as it carries authority and the language makes sense in the original context.

The plagiarised version doesn’t make complete sense. Even the words “schools” and “colleges” have subtly different meanings. This also demonstrates how easily the meaning of a phrase, or whole news report can be changed by bad wording.

Certainly, a contributor to fake news and to false news.

The way in which students are using tools like these has also begun to receive attention recently. I have previously looked at this under the title of essay spinning, but there are other related areas of work such as back translation. The term machine-based plagiarism has also been suggested to cover the whole field.

There are lots of opportunities for research in this area, both to investigate automated plagiarism in student work and in the related area of news stories. I can see this offering an increasing challenge to academic integrity in the future.

(or, as an esteemed colleague of mine would say “the walls are falling in“)!

 

Examining The State of Academic Integrity in Europe – Recommendations From SEEPPAI

This presentation focused on sharing the main results and recommendations from the South East European Project on Policies for Academic Integrity (SEEPPAI).

Everything is focused around academic integrity, with particular reference to Romania, where I spoke at an event organised by Turnitin. From my observations of the wider European challenges with regards to academic integrity and discussions in Romania itself, the findings of SEEPPAI are consistent with much of European Europe and South Eastern Europe.

You can see the slides used in the academic integrity presentation on my SlideShare account. They are also embedded below.

Some of the observations relate to what I see as a key challenge regarding student plagiarism. That is, educating students about academic writing and academic integrity and working with them to ensure that teaching is fit for purpose. That’s something I believe we can all work on, regardless of where in Europe or the wider world we’re based.

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