Sunday, 4 April 2010

‘Essay factory’ offers 2:1 degree or your cash back


IT is the academic equivalent of "phone a friend". Students are being sold foolproof dissertations written for them with a cashback guarantee if they fail to get at least a 2:1 degree.
Instead of burning the midnight oil, all the students have to do is put the cost on their credit card. The company selling the service also says its contributors can ghost-write a first-class version of the essay for £1,440. An MA dissertation will cost up to £15,000.
The offers by the website are the latest evidence of the growth of "essay mills", widely condemned as cheating aids. The firms claim they do not encourage dishonesty and say they tell students to use the essays as a "resource" and not hand them in.
The tailor-made work is becoming increasingly popular as universities become better at detecting direct plagiarism from the internet.
Most universities now use anti-plagiarism software to scan work that students submit, but they have done little to combat the essay mills. promises to put the completed essay through its own anti-plagiarism scanner to make sure it cannot be detected.
The firm is among the most successful of the essay mills. Its parent company, Academic Answers Ltd, recently reported profits of £241,598 for the year ending November 30, 2008. Its founder, Barclay Littlewood, 31, a qualified solicitor, has an estimated fortune of some £7m, according to The Sunday Times Young Rich List.
The company claims to have 4,000 contributors, ranging from serving lecturers to solicitors, retired doctors and recent graduates, who write the essays on behalf of students.
It says it has regular customers from universities including Durham and York. It claims none of the essays it recently provided for 240 students at Nottingham and Nottingham Trent universities to pilot its new guarantee was detected.
Many university degrees now award all marks — or nearly all — through coursework and dissertations rather than final exams, making them vulnerable to students plagiarising work or buying essays online.
Last week a Sunday Times researcher posing as an Edinburgh University undergraduate asked the company about providing a final-year dissertation and essays for a course in English literature and classics.
A member of staff at told her that a 6,000-word dissertation, which would count towards her final degree, would cost £1,440 at first-class standard and £720 for a 2:1. She advised that students should not try buying essays that were of an improbably high standard.
Tony Eynon, managing director of, based in Nottingham, said the new guarantee was a "real breakthrough in contemporary academia".
Bahram Bekhradnia, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, a think tank, said: "It is potentially very serious and undermines the whole fabric of higher education."

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