Business is booming for ‘private tutors’ who write university students’ essays for them.
Writing a university dissertation is, as every student knows, a labour of love. It requires long hours in the library, along with careful shaping and structuring of one’s material, plus countless litres of late-night black coffee. Or, alternatively, £300.
That’s if you’re only aiming for a 2:1, of course. If you’re really serious about academic success, you can pay £550 and get a First.
How? By hiring one of the growing number of companies that will supply anything from 1,000-word essays on the causes of the English Civil War to 10,000-word treatises on international marketing strategies. Not surprisingly, voices in academia are being raised in anger.
“Students who go down this path are cheating themselves,” says Jo Wynn, of the Quality Assurance Agency, which monitors standards in higher education.
“If we were to find someone using such a thing, our response would be ferocious,” says Professor Tom Ward, pro-vice-chancellor for academic affairs, at the University of East Anglia. “Not only would they not get their degree, they’d be kicked out. It is just so undermining of the whole system.”
Maybe so, but it’s pretty simple to do. Just go on the internet, type “essay writing”, and a host of firms will be clamouring to help with your coursework. “Where A Student’s Life Becomes Easier,” purrs the website; less reassuring is its claim: “We provide piece of mind.”
Indeed, while these companies promise round-the-clock customer support and teams of 200 to 4,000 highly qualified essay-crafters, producing pieces of work that will pass all plagiarism tests, some appear to be more, well, questionable.
Question number one: are they in the UK? Not UKBestEssays. Despite a website showing Union Flags, the girl at the end of the phone says she’s in Delaware in the US. And when the rather distant-sounding man atis asked if I can visit his office, he says he can’t give me the address because I “might bring the police”.
“We all get tarred with the same brush,” complains Jilly Walden, quality manager at UKEssays.com, based at the same address (in Arnold, near Nottingham) as Degree Essays (www.degree-essays.com) and Law Teacher (www.lawteacher.net)
“Yet, unlike other companies, we are happy to publish our address, and we are happy for students to visit us; we have got academics in-house. Nor do we condone plagiarism. It’s made very clear to clients that we don’t supply essays; we give model answers around which they frame their ideas. We see it as no different to a lecturer pointing students towards a document in a library. As far as we know, 99.9 per cent of customers use our products correctly.”
But it’s hard to believe someone would pay £550 purely for a stimulating read. However, the founder of London-based Oxbridge Essays, Stratos Malamatinas, who says his firm ( ) gets 10,000-plus orders per year, stands by the ”it’s-just-a-framework’’ stance. “It’s made explicit to our customers that they should use our material merely as inspiration, and they should express themselves in their own words,” he declares.
“That said, 75 per cent of our customers are foreign students who, although talented, can’t express themselves as well in English as in their own language. British universities are happy to take their money, without checking their English. There’s a real greediness among British universities; students are left to struggle, and are forced to turn to a private company, rather than getting help that should be supplied by the university. It’s not just foreign students. Most UK students who come to us are profoundly unhappy with the tuition they get, [with] no formal instruction in the writing and structuring of essays.”
Especially when that essay is 90,000 words.
“I’m fine on research, and I can talk about the subject till the cows come home, but I need guidance in putting material together and expressing it in academic terms,” says Geoff (not his real name), who is doing a PhD in marketing at University College London, and is paying Oxbridge Essays to help him with his 400-page-plus thesis.
“They are writing the guideline, so to speak, and I am mimicking it in my own words. It’s going to take a couple of years and I’ll have paid them a five-figure sum, but it’s worth it. I am aware that some people do just take this kind of work and pass it off as their own – so I don’t want my real name in The Daily Telegraph, in case people think that’s what I’ve done.”
The same applies to “Dan”, a second-year student at Bristol University, who, in his first year, sought outside help with an essay on tragedy in Shakespeare. “I felt like I wasn’t getting much academic direction,” he says. “The number of students at lectures was enormous. I was getting no real feedback.” Instead of buying an essay off the internet, he turned to the tutorial agency Bright Young Things, which spent three and a half hours with him (at £60 an hour) planning his essay. Result? A 2:1 grade, but it was all his own work.
“We don’t write people’s essays, we merely teach them essay-production skills,” maintains Oliver Eccles, one of Bright Young Things’ senior tutors.
That’s not to say that tutors don’t get asked to do a bit of proxy essay-penning, though.
“I’ve had some difficult conversations with parents and students who want me to write the essay,” says Michelle Okin, who runs the tutorial agency Rose Okin (£40-£75 per hour). “But how are they going to stand on their own feet if they’ve always had the stabilisers on?”
It’s a powerful argument. Indeed, many would argue that the spread of tutoring in higher education was inevitable, considering how prevalent it has become in secondary and primary education. But the more immediate question for any student contemplating an essay purchase, is more likely to be – can I get away with it?
The answer is yes, if the work has been written by the kind of brilliant academic mind the websites claim to have on their books (Stratos Malamantinas says he has essay-writers who earn between £20,000 and £70,000 per year).
“If it truly is an original work, then it will get through the plagiarism-detection software,” says Will Murray, whose firm supplies Turnitin, the plagiarism checking system used by most UK universities. “But sometimes the writing has been outsourced to India, or America, and the grammar and expressions will reflect that. I’ve even seen cases where the student has left in the name of the person who actually wrote the essay.”
Ideally, prevention is better than detection. By inviting students to discuss essays, university tutors can monitor the sudden arrival of unfamiliar thoughts and ideas.
“My instinct is very much against the combative ‘We don’t trust you’ approach,” says Professor Ward. “Rather than going for the Orwellian system, whereby we monitor our students’ internet traffic, I favour making them understand the only people being ripped off by these short cuts is them.”
Finally, there is always the worry that the immaculately written document you have bought is not as fresh as claimed, and may contain great chunks of pre-plagiarised text that will set off the digital detection sirens.
“So the question,” says Will Murray, “is how confident are you that the essay you are handing in, that has been written by someone you have never met, is 100 per cent original?”