No Systematic Solution To Essay Mills

I’m quoted in the cover story of this week’s Times Higher Education (although much of the story looks based around the long discussion we had on the telephone):

It’s an interesting feature, running to six pages in the printed version of THE (and having attracted comments on the online version).

An interesting statement is the estimate that over 15,000 customer essays are written by essay writing firms within the UK every year. That doesn’t account for the students who commit other forms of contract cheating or order from abroad.

The implication in the article is that there is no easy solution in sight, but I hope that we can do better.

Commercial Aspects Of Contract Cheating

Our research into contract cheating now includes more than 18,000 examples of attempts by students to cheat. One aspect we wanted to explore is to answer the often asked questions about the monetary sides to contract cheating. Who really profits?

This talk explores the commercial aspects associated with contract cheating, including examples from the diverse range of practices that we’ve uncovered.

The presentation took place at ITiCSE 2013, held at the University of Kent in Canterbury. The slides, hosted on SlideShare account for Thomas Lancaster, are included here.

The research is focused particularly on contract cheating using auction sites, so there are still other areas to explore. The data for those other contract cheating methods, however, can be very difficult to come by.

Outsourcing Assignments? Exposing The Threat Posed By Contract Cheating To The Computing Industry

I recently joined Robert Clarke in speaking about contract cheating to a room full of academics and people from within the wider Computing industry.

As well as looking at examples of contract cheating and the research involved, the talk also considered some of the implications for student employability.

The presentation took place for the Wolverhampton branch of the British Computer Society. The slides, hosted on SlideShare account for Thomas Lancaster, are included here.

Contractor sites, such as, are widely used within the Computing industry, both by workers and contractors. It is only when they are used for academic work which is then submitted towards academic qualifications that this becomes unacceptable.

It was interesting to hear the reactions of the wider Computing sector to the research. That is certainly an area for further research, discussion and exploration.

HEA Contract Cheating Special Interest Group Meeting

At the 2013 HEA STEM Conference, we held an introductory meeting for the Special Interest Group in contract cheating. Although the group is primarily aimed at the Computing discipline, the group is not discipline specific and should be of interest to all areas.

A short presentation was held to kick off the session and the slides (hosted on SlideShare account for Thomas Lancaster) are included here.

One thing that I did for the slides was that I chose a live example of contract cheating (a request for an Information Systems student project found at Unfortunately, no-one was able to attribute this during the session, so this remains in the slides as an activity for anyone interest.

We also briefly shared some new success at using TurnItIn to find details of assignments, thanks to students starting to include their assignment specification along with the work they uploaded for marking.

The session finished with delegates discussing some of the good practice they use to prevent contract cheating. This included staff who were able to get to know their students and question them on anything amiss, as well as various staged submission types. However, methods to circumvent these checks were also shared.

As always, there was a sense of surprise around the room that this type of cheating was happening, meaning that continued discussion about contract cheating is needed.

The mailing list for the HEA Contract Cheating Special Interest Group can be joined here.

The Wider Implications Of Contract Cheating

Within the wider topic of contract cheating one area, which I hope to explore further with Robert Clarke relates to the wider implications of contract cheating to the IT industry.

We often discuss this when we’re presenting.

Where a student has cheated to obtain a qualification, this means that they’re not equipped with the core skills needed for success. This reflects badly on not only the student, but also the university which produced that particular student. Since the Computing industry now is so easily interconnected through social media, such information can soon spread, and can lead the IT industry having a lack of confidence in the qualifications that universities are awarding.

As part of our work to publicise contract cheating, we’re presenting a talk for the Wolverhampton Branch of the British Computer Society on Wednesday 24 April, 2013. The talk is exploring the topic of “Outsourcing Assignments? Exposing The Threat Posed By Contract Cheating To The Computing Industry” and one thing that we’re hoping is to engage the community of IT professionals that are present in a discussion on this issue.

More information about the talk can be found here (it is free to attend and booking is not required).

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