Essay mills should be outlawed in the UK to protect students from exploitation and threats of blackmail by criminals, a former universities minister has urged.
Taking action to ban the essay-writing services would also help defend the reputation of UK universities, senior Conservative MP Chris Skidmore added.
Commercial entities that make money by encouraging students to cheat in assessments are known as essay mills.
Their services include providing students with ready-made essays to pass off as their own.
Mr Skidmore wants to ban the operation and advertising of these organisations in the UK.
He will seek to introduce his Essay Mills (Prohibition) Bill to the House of Commons on Wednesday, with the hope that ministers will include such measures in future legislation to be announced in the Queen’s Speech later this year.
Mr Skidmore told the PA news agency: “It seems the problem now has moved beyond simply being ‘here, buy our essay’.
Will be on Today In Parliament on @BBCRadio4 tonight at 23.30 talking to @DArcyTiP about my 10 Minute Rule Bill on 10 Feb to make Essay Mills and companies encouraging academic cheating illegal #academicintegrity
— Chris Skidmore (@CSkidmoreUK) February 5, 2021
“The issue is students are also selling essays for £10 and they’re being sold on for £300 – there’s exploitation going on.
“And also there seems to be a dark criminal underworld where blackmail is occurring.
“So students are using the services, then the services are then reporting students back to the universities – or threatening to – and blackmailing them.”
Mr Skidmore said essay mills are also targeting students via social media, which risks normalising such cheating.
He added the move to online education during the Covid-19 pandemic means tutors have found it harder to judge what is the work of a student or an essay mill.
Such services are already banned in a small number of countries, including Australia.
And Mr Skidmore predicted the UK taking similar steps would influence other nations to act and therefore build momentum behind efforts to deal with an “international problem”.
He said: “Academic integrity is absolutely critical to maintaining a successful reputation both at home and abroad when it comes to higher education – therefore I think the UK can really lead on this.
“We’ve had a couple of countries take forward legislation.
“If the UK can demonstrate it’s willing to bring in legislation also to end essay mills, we could make this part of a wider international campaign to close this loophole.
“Most people would assume that this kind of service should be illegal in that it actively damages a student’s ability to learn independently and to learn successfully.
“It also creates addictive and corrosive patterns that can lead students into potentially a criminal underworld that exists here.”
Mr Skidmore said any legislation must not criminalise students but target those behind the essay mills.