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Press release: Jo Johnson demands tough penalties on student plagiarism

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Universities Minister Jo Johnson is today (Tuesday 21 February) calling on university and student bodies to do more to deal with the spread of ‘essay mills’ – websites which provide custom written essays for students to submit as part of their degree.

The Universities Minister has asked for guidance aimed at universities and information for students to help combat the use of these websites, as well as other forms of plagiarism. The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) has also been tasked to take action against the online advertising of these services and to work with international agencies to deal with this problem.

The Minister is calling for the guidance to include tough new penalties for those who make use of essay mills websites, as well as the need to educate students about the potentially significant negative impacts on their future career if they are caught cheating.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson said:

“This form of cheating is unacceptable and every university should have strong policies and sanctions in place to detect and deal with it.

“Essay mill websites threaten to undermine the high quality reputation of a UK degree so it is vital that the sector works together to address this in a consistent and robust way.”

The spread of essay mill websites was uncovered in a QAA report, commissioned by the government, which was published last year. It found that the websites often advertise their services to students for a fee and many promote “plagiarism-free guarantees”, or essays tested against plagiarism detection software.

Further work by QAA has confirmed that there are now over 100 essay mills websites currently in operation. Prices charged by these sites vary depending on the complexity of essay and tightness of deadline. They can range from a couple of hundred pounds for a single essay to as high as £6,750 for a PhD dissertation.

Ian Kimber, QAA’s Director of Universities, Quality Enhancement and Standards said:

“Essay mills are a major challenge for universities and colleges because, unlike other forms of cheating, the practice is notoriously difficult to detect. We look forward to continuing our work with the government and sector colleagues in addressing an issue potentially damaging to students and the reputation of UK higher education.”

The new sector guidance and student information is expected to be made available for the beginning of the 2017/18 teaching year.

Following a request by the government to investigate the use of essay mills in the UK, the QAA published a report on this issue in August 2016 titled ‘Plagiarism in Higher Education – Custom essay writing services: an exploration and next steps for the UK higher education sector’. This report confirmed that essays mills are a “growing threat to UK higher education”.

Sector guidance on plagiarism has not been updated for some time. It is currently left to individual institutions to develop their own plagiarism policies in accordance with the requirements and indicators of sound practice set out in the UK Quality Code.

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