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New law to crack down on ‘essays for sale’

Minister for Education Richard Bruton: move vital to ensure level playing field for students

The legislation will also give institutes of technology the power to award degrees in the same way as universities. Photograph: Getty Images

Firms that provide written-to-order essays and dissertations for third-level students face prosecution under new laws.

The move is a response to rising concern over the influence of “essay mill” websites which allow students to bypass plagiarism-detection systems.

New laws being drafted by Minister for Education Richard Bruton will make it an an offence to provide or advertise “cheating services” which aim to give students an unfair advantage over others.

The provisions are modelled on legislation introduced in New Zealand which makes it illegal to advertise or provide third-party assistance to cheat. They include circumstances beyond essay writing, such as sitting an exam on behalf of another person.

Minister for Education Richard Bruton is proposing new laws to make it an an offence to provide or advertise academic “cheating services”. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

The scale of cheating in Irish colleges is difficult to estimate, though there have been about 1,000 cases of students in Ireland being disciplined for plagiarism since 2010, according to figures compiled by The Irish Times last year.

The real number is likely to be significantly higher given that several universities did not provide figures.

Contract cheating

In a statement, Mr Bruton said Ireland would be one of the first countries to take measures to tackle the issue of contract cheating.

“Today I am announcing plans to get tough and tackle academic cheating. I am proposing new powers to prosecute someone who provides or advertises essay mills or other services which would facilitate cheating. This is vital to ensuring an equal playing field for all our students.”

There are dozens of essay-writing services available, although many insist they do not condone cheating.

Dublin-based website Write My Assignments describes itself as “an online education development company offering support to private individuals and businesses by qualified writers and researchers”.

The company says it does not condone plagiarism and all “clients are expected to use and reference it as they would any other online source”.

It told The Irish Times last year that demands for its services were growing and it was typically completing roughly 350 projects a year.

Mr Bruton said the measures will be included in a new Bill which will strengthen the role of the higher and further education regulator, Quality and Qualifications Ireland.

While current guidelines deal with plagiarism, they do not address the issue of so-called contract cheating or the use of paid-for essays.

The legislation will also give institutes of technology the power to award degrees in the same way as universities.

This will give institutes more autonomy over the range of programmes they deliver, up to and including master’s degrees, as well as placing them on a more equal footing with universities.

Protection fund

Other measures include a “learner protection fund”, which will support students to complete their studies if their college closes.

This follows concern over the plight of international students, in particular, who have been left without places due to the sudden closure of English-language colleges.

An “international education mark” will also be awarded to colleges to help provide international students with confidence that their college or school is reputable.

These are aimed at helping to fulfil the Government’s ambitious plans to boost the numbers of lucrative international students studying in language schools and third-level institutions.

The draft legislation is to be issued to the Oireachtas education committee to allow for a full public discussion on the proposals.

Mr Bruton said he hoped committee would consider these proposals as soon as possible.

“The changes we are introducing are necessary to ensure high standards in higher and further education going into the future, and to provide better outcomes for all learners,” he said.

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