Essay mills are set to be banned in England under plans to reform post-16 education.
The Government intends to make it a criminal offence to provide, arrange or advertise essay-writing services for financial gain to university and college students.
Making essay mills illegal under new legislation will help protect students from falling prey to the “deceptive marketing techniques of contract cheating services”, the Department for Education (DfE) has said.
It is one of a number of measures being introduced to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill – which aims to transform further and technical education.
Careers education in schools will also be strengthened to ensure all pupils have opportunities to learn about all the technical education options available to them – including apprenticeships, T-levels and traineeships.
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Skills Minister Alex Burghart said: “Essay mills are completely unethical and profit by undermining the hard work most students do.
“We are taking steps to ban these cheating services.
“We have also announced a new measure to make sure all young people receive broader careers guidance so everyone can get the advice that’s right for them.”
Essay mills, which are already illegal in some countries, make money by encouraging students to cheat in assessments.
Their services include providing students with ready-made essays to pass off as their own.
The Government hopes banning the services will help to safeguard the academic integrity and standards of post-16 and higher education in England.
It comes after former universities minister Chris Skidmore called for essay mill websites to be outlawed in February this year.
In June, the Government pledged to work with politicians on proposed legislation around banning essay-writing services.
Tory frontbencher Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay told peers there is a “strong case” to support institutions in dealing with the rising number of essay mills.
The law will also be changed to give equality to technical education in careers advice in schools, so all pupils understand the wide range of routes and training available to them, not just academic routes.
Fantastic news- a great result for all those academics, teachers and professional organisations who have worked so hard to promote academic integrity. Delighted to have partnered with them to push the agenda forward with my essay mills prohibition bill earlier this year https://t.co/ORUm18rs99
— Chris Skidmore (@CSkidmoreUK) October 5, 2021
Additional amendments to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill, which enters its report stage in the House of Lords on October 12, includes allowing more faith school providers to open post-16 academies with a religious character.
A Universities UK (UUK) spokeswoman said: “We welcome this news. UUK has repeatedly called for essay writing services to be made illegal and we have worked together with Government, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) and other higher education bodies to tackle their use.
“While the use of essay mills by students is rare, all universities have codes of conduct that include severe penalties for students found to be submitting work that is not their own.
“Universities have become increasingly experienced at dealing with such issues and are engaging with students from day-one to underline the implications of cheating and how it can be avoided.”
Gareth Crossman, head of policy and public affairs at the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), said: “We’re delighted that the DfE has agreed to outlaw these unscrupulous outfits that threaten the integrity of UK higher education and prey on vulnerable students, and hope other UK Governments will also take action.
“This sends a clear signal but, with well over 1000 essay mills in operation, the sector must continue working together to put them out of business.”
A spokesperson for the National Union of Students (NUS) said: “These private companies prey on students’ vulnerabilities and insecurities to make money through exploitation, and never more so than during the pandemic.
“NUS has called on the Government to take action against them in the past, and I hope they are finally listening.
“In the meantime, we would urge universities to put in place academic and pastoral support so that students are never in the position of feeling they have to turn to essay mills in the first place.”
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