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 and Essay Mills 2017 Findings Part 2 – Inside The Contract Cheating Industry

This is Part 2 of the 7 part series examining Findings From Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond 2017

A lot of presentations at Plagiarism Across Europe and Beyond discussed the wider essay industry as some part of their presentation. That has provided me with the opportunity to collate a lot interesting information for this blog post.

The Size of the Contract Cheating Industry

How big the essay industry is tends to be one of those questions that regularly repeats itself, particularly as this always seem to be a growing market. I’ve previously pulled together some existing estimates and added my own.

Phil Newton shared the figure that there are over 1000 English language essay sites. However, this does not necessarily mean 1000 different companies, as many sites are the same company, just with a different front-end to them. Similarly, as I’ve shown in my marketing research, some of these sites are not even essay mills at all. They just transfer potential customers to another site and receive a commission.

Veronika Kralikova completed a similar study for sites marketed at students from the Czech Republic. She found over 100 such sites, most of which were said to be locally run. Again, it’s not clear if this means that there were 100 unique companies or not. Veronika did say that the sites were easy to find. This compares similarly to the SEEPPAI research I’ve been involved with in SE Europe, which also found that markets were heavily localised.

Veronika also tried to work out how many people were using those sites and collected together log files of accesses from her university network between January and March 2017. For the most used of the sites, she found an average of 58,000 visits per month. That will include duplicate visits but the number is still astonishing. It would be interesting to see similar numbers collected from other university networks.

Neither of the figures referring to the number of essay mills reflect the fact that most contract cheating does not go through traditional essay mills at all. My own work has looked heavily at the use of agency sites, such as Freelancer, as well as student connections with ghost-writers through classified adverts and private tutors. More interestingly, Tracey Bretag’s research looking at student use of contract cheating services in Australia found that only 10.4% of students who had contract cheated said that they had used a professional service. By contrast, 60.2% of students said they had relied on a current student or former student. That may not be surprising, as these are people familiar with the material, and, where the assignment details do not change from year to year, also familiar with the exact assessment. A study in the Czech Republic used different groupings, but found that 40% of students who had contract cheated had used a professional service, whereas 60% had used friends and family.

Tracey also found that only 13.2% of students said that they had paid money for the assignment or assignments they received. With friends, family members and significant others supplying much of the work, this again looks believable, although the payment figure may hide agreements of other forms that carry value for both parties, for instance as previous examples of contract cheating being undertaken for bedroom favours have shown.

The Writers Behind The Contract Cheating Industry

Some of the most fascinating research into contract cheating that has emerged, or has started to emerge, has looked at the ghostwriters who are keeping the essay industry afloat. This was discussed in several talks, as well as in the main contract cheating panel discussion.

I mentioned my work looking at the sales funnels used by contract cheating providers and noted that very little of the money paid by a student to a big company would end up with the eventual writer. This was supported by Chloe Walker’s ongoing research in Kenya, where she provided some case studies of the people employed in contract cheating provider roles. She gave one example of a writer who moonlighted in the evenings after completing their main job, usually returning two essays per night for $2 or $3 per essay. She also discussed a former full time writer who previously worked in the industry for one year, typically working 15 hour days. That writer was said to usually receive between $5 and $25 per page, although it wasn’t made clear how many pages were written in a day.

Those figures show some disparity, but my own experience suggests that the lower figures are more common, particularly for writers working in a developing economy or having work supplied through a large company.

There was some discussion about whether these wages represented exploitation, with no consensus reached. It is a difficult argument to sum up in a short space. $25 per page, if true, is more than many companies charge and more than UK and US essay writers make. I can remember the same discussions happening back when I used to discuss contract cheating for program source code, potentially an even cheaper task as the worker does not need to be able to speak English.

Financially, Chloe said that workers in Kenya are keen to find a position working in the gig economy. Some of the numbers are alarming. 35% of youths in Kenya are unemployed. 40,000 people are said to be employed as digital workers, with 20,000 of those people in Kenya employed as “academic writers”. That is a substantial figure, particularly if the essay industry is able to supply enough work to keep all of those people busy. The vast number of people working in the industry can only drive prices (and wages) down.

Where there likely is more exploitation is due to a lack of job security. Workers in the contract cheating industry are easy to replace. By its nature, the work is also unpredictable and seasonal. There could be weeks with no orders and other weeks with 50 orders. The situation is comparable with the wider gig economy jobs in the UK, like driving an Uber, to working on zero hour contracts serving drinks in a bar. Although many workers do seem to treat contract cheating like a career, it’s hard to consider this line of work as one.

Some writers have managed to work out how to turn the contract cheating industry to their advantage. I’ve spoken to several who have acquired high paying regular clients, particularly writers based in the UK and US. At other conferences, I’ve heard about students who identify a writer, sometimes before they go to university and then refer that same writer to their friends and contacts.

Shiva Sivasubramaniam also discussed the findings from his work with international writers, but who had been educated in countries like the UK and US. He suggested that these people had not been able to find jobs and so had been driven into this line of work, using some of the skills from their degree studies. Alas, I doubt that this is the type of entrepreneurial spirit that universities are hoping that their students will develop. I’ve seen Shiva’s wider work and he’s also identified strong marketing techniques used by this group of international writers, including developing their own writing networks.

There is still much more work to be done to look at the ghost-writers behind the contract cheating industry. A discussion of concern suggested that there may be academics working as ghost-writers, particularly those who are hourly paid and could be considered to be on the university version of zero hour contracts. A presentation from Strike Plagiarism discussed wider research in Europe where academics had been found associated with essay mills. I certainly know of cases involving PhD students who have worked as academic writers, but the suggestion of full academics is taking this to another level. There is more work for us to do as a sector here.

The Quality Of Purchased Essays

There’s been a fair amount of research in recent years looking at the quality of work provided by ghost-writers and essay mills. Although recent research has suggested that there have been some improvements, there is still a lot of disparity from company to company and writer to writer.

Veronika Kralikova purchased an essay from two of the main essay mills in the Czech Republic. In each case, the same essay topic was requested with a payment of $107 for an essay with a three-week turnaround time. The results were mixed, with one of the essays said to be “very bad” and the other said to be “average”. This ties in with wider work looking at the quality of purchased essays which suggests that the buyer should beware.

The Marketing Behind The Contract Cheating Industry

An area related to the size of the essay industry looks at the marketing of contract cheating services. How the sites and individuals promote themselves is something that I’ve found continues to change. Many presenters provided examples of media stories in their talk providing publicity to essay mills. Others presenters gave examples of advertisements that had been seen around campus, many of which were creative.

Wendy-Sutherland Smith disucssed a large essay mill operating in Australia. In response to recent media attention, the site now advertises that they will wipe all details of their clients after their essay purchase is complete, thus removing any risk of the client being caught. Tracey Bretag an interesting example with messages sent directly to students using the logo of the university where she works as part of the marketing message. The use of this logo could be seen to provide some legitimacy to the essay providing service. I showed several cases where students had requested assignments and exams and providers went directly to the student to make offers, often at a competitive price.

Several people showed examples of marketing aimed at specific types of international students. Tracey showed an advert in Chinese, making the aims of that advert obvious. I’ve seen similar styles of adverts in other countries. Shiva Sivasubramaniam discussed some of his findings when working with ghost-writers in Asia. He noted a market where graduates would return to their home country after completing a degree at a Western university and set up as a ghost-writer. They would then market directly to students that their home country, benefiting from the advantage of knowing that market well and possibly even steering the student towards a degree course that they knew they could assist with.

Social media marketing was mentioned several times during the conference, both as a method used by companies to find essay buyers, as well as by companies to employ new writers. Chloe Walker turned the idea of Facebook marketing on its head and discussed how she’d used Facebook advertising to recruit people to participate in her study of contract cheating in Kenya. She used similar search profiles and advertisements to those used by the essay industry itself. A useful idea would be to consider if it’s possible to conduct similar research in other geographical areas and academic disciplines.

Chloe showed several adverts for writers, including one summing up why this might be a good business to move into. Its headline simply promised, “You will earn a lot if you take up online academic writing jobs, Kenya”.

A Decade Of Contract Cheating – The Demand For Essay Writing Jobs

10 In 10 Contract Cheating Series – Part 3

This is the third in a 10 part series looking at how contract cheating has changed since the term was first publicised in a research paper and presentation in June 2006.

 

The Academic Job Market

One of the lesser spoken about developments in contract cheating has been the emergence of a whole group of writers who are willing to create original work for students.

On the face of it, academic writing services (as these are commonly known), do not look to offer the most appealing employment prospects. The work can be repetitive and includes long periods sat in front of a computer screen. The work is seasonal and demand unpredictable. And, this work is helping students to cheat, an area which should raise ethical concerns for anyone involved in the industry.

So, why do people complete assignments for others and how in demand really is this work? This contract cheating blog post sets out to explore what’s involved.

 

Who Writes Essays For Other Students?

Although, this used to be an industry that operated behind closed doors, nowadays writers seem much happier talking to academics and the media about what they do and why, as well as publishing their own blog posts (and even books) about their involvement in the industry,

Here are profiles of just a few of the types of people involved in writing essays and preparing bespoke assignments for students,

  1. The Accidental Essay Writer
    There are examples all over the Internet of people who have signed up for online writing jobs, expecting to be writing feature articles or web content, only to discover that most of the work was academic in nature. Other people have signed up looking to deliver tutorial services, only to find that most of the work was actually doing all of the work for students.
    Vic Boyd tells one such story in the Times Higher Education, talking about a website opportunity she was offered that stated “Develop your academic writing career online!” It turned out to involve writing work for students.
  2. The Business Opportunist
    The money involved in writing academic work for students can be good, particularly for writers who are skilled enough to identify assignment types that they can turn around quickly and achieve a high wage for.
    The Shadow Scholar, Ed Dante, for instance talked about making more than $66,000 USD a year as a ghostwriter for student work (and later published a book and a series of blog posts about his academic ghostwriting experience).
    Others have discussed how writing work for students is one of the most lucrative forms of writing jobs out there.
  3. The “Would Rather Be An Academic”
    An unusual culture of writer has developed who state that they would have preferred a lecturing position, including people with PhDs.
    Their academic writing work may then have come about through necessity.
    One such online quote, which also expresses the money available, says:

    I write for an essay mill. The pay can be really good, $50 for an hours work? Ok! Got my PhD in history, but the schools chose to cut jobs and create online courses.

    BBC Radio 4 featured an interview with a UK academic ghostwriting (a summary is available here). He expressed that he was offering this service as revenge for not being able to obtain an academic position.

  4. The UK Graduates
    Several examples have emerged of graduates from a UK degree then moving overseas to their home country and offering assignment production services. They would take the skills that they’d developed during their degree and would hence be in demand.
    The article, A Close Encounter With Ghost-Writers, explores several such cases. It also identifies very qualified writers, such as those with doctorates and those with experience teaching in higher education – all areas that I’ve explored in my own research.
  5. The Career Writers
    One of the most concerning developments is the set of writers who look at this as a valuable career path.
    On the face of it, academic writing for students can be a good profession. There’s flexibility to work from home and to not need to keep set hours. It can fit around other responsibilities. It is brain work, rather than manual work. And, there is the potential to earn well for people who know who to identify the correct links.
    But, most of the ghostwriters that I’ve identified in this field seem to be more the equivalent of web content writers. That means, they’re like those people who turn out multiple low quality blog posts every hour, receiving only a few dollars back for a day’s work.
    One such site which helps people to find writing jobs states the likely wage that they’ll receive as an academic writer:

    During the low season the CPP (cost per page) can go as low as $2 – $5, but during the peak season depending on the level of your account, the CPP can go as high as $10 – $20

    From my observations, the lower end of that pay scale is a much more common pay rate for writers, particularly for those in developing economies or whom English is not their first language. A page is approximately 275 words, so writing can cost under 1c per word.
    Still, rates such as these can be considered high in many economies, particularly where work of any kind is in short supply. I’ve even seen examples where freelance workers have asked not to be paid more, for fear that it could bring unwanted attention to them.

Would You “Pay To Work” As An Academic Writer?

A further interesting development is the market in people helping others to get academic writing jobs.

Much of this is financially driven. I’ve seen examples of all of the following ways of making money from other writers:

  • commissions on writer earnings by referring writers to a site
  • paid training packages, showing writers how to pass essay site tests, or how to writers essay in the form that sites like
  • services to take the entrance tests required to get accounts on writing sites
  • services to hide the location of writers, so they can get around location restrictions (for instance, none native writers trying to get the rates advertised for natives)

There are whole online communities where writers discuss the different essay industry providers and try to identify which sites are the best to work for.

A whole black market in developing and selling accounts for essay writing firms has also developed, aimed at those writers who can’t easily get their own accounts.

Although much of this is done through private communities, there are some examples visible on public sites, such as Facebook.

academicwritingaccounts

As the image shows, the range of accounts available is huge, covering many popular academic freelancing sites, some of which even have an account balance waiting to be withdrawn. This particular example is largely for the writing market in Kenya, one of many locations where writing jobs are sought after.

The rates for buying writing accounts such as these are not cheap, ranging from anything from $100 USD at the lower end, to $1000 USD for established accounts at the upper end. That would take some time to pay back at the bottom end rate of $2 USD per page. There is also always the risk of accounts being shut down once transferred, particularly if the new owner receives poor feedback.

 

Should We Address The “Writing Providers” For The Essay Industry?

These are just a few examples of the power behind the online writing industry, particularly when it’s accompanied with many more writers than are ever needed for the demand that is out there. Indeed, there are workers who have complained about the internal competition within the writing industry bringing wages down.

I’ve only included a few examples of the types of writers completing assessment for students here. There are many more examples in the recent talks and keynotes that I’ve delivered.

Indeed, the whole field of who writes what and why is much more complicated than this. I’ve observed a writer online who only likes to take on high level work at MSc or PhD level as he relishes the intellectual challenge. I’ve also spoken to a writer who is happy to complete work on a variety of subjects, regardless if he has any personal experience, but draws the line at subjects that causes him ethical concerns, such as nursing.

Nevertheless, there is good work available for writers who understand the marketing side of the business, how to develop student links and how to charge more for the work that they’re doing.

From an academic perspective, we need to be continuing to address all sections of this writing business. How can we identify the low-end writers who turn out continual turn-key type assessments, but clearly do enough to pass? And, how can we make producing high end assignments impossible, even though there is a lot of money moving around here, so clearly incentives from the writing side for this to continue?

The essay industry continues to be a complex beast.

 

This article is part of a series of posts looking at the developments in contract cheating over the past 10 years. Take a look at the remaining parts of the 10 in 10 contract cheating series here