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Contract cheating in UK higher education: A covert investigation of essay mills

Medway, D and Roper, S and Gillooly, Leah (2018) Contract cheating in UK higher education: A covert investigation of essay mills. British Educational Research Journal, 44 (3). pp. 393-418. ISSN 0141-1926

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Abstract

Contract cheating is currently a concern for universities and the HE sector. It has been brought into the spotlight in recent years through the growth of online essay mills, where students can easily commission and purchase written assessment responses. This study contributes to the wider literature on academic integrity in HE by examining the phenomenon of contract cheating from a from a supply side perspective, thereby considering the essay mill offering and student interaction with it. The authors covertly engage with five essay mills, before successfully completing an assignment purchase with two of these providers. The pre-purchase stage of an assignment transaction is first examined, unpacking ten reassurance cues used by essay mill providers in the text of their websites. These reassurance cues help to ensure the attractiveness of the essay mill product to potential student consumers. The analysis then moves to explore the ethical discourses around academic integrity that essay mills provide, revealing inconsistencies in their stance towards the potential for academic misconduct from the use of essay mill services. Finally, the paper explores the quality of the essay mill product, through grading and Turnitin® reports for the two purchased essay mill assignments. Following recent calls for the outlawing of essay mills, this paper provides a timely addition to current understanding of this phenomenon, and the associated challenges of contract cheating in HE.

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