Students get academics to write their essays for €50 an hour

Universities increase measures to combat academic fraud as websites offer to do work

DCU: one of a number of institutions that are altering their methods of assessment, in tandem with the rollout of ‘cut-and-paste’ detection software, to combat academic fraud. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

DCU: one of a number of institutions that are altering their methods of assessment, in tandem with the rollout of ‘cut-and-paste’ detection software, to combat academic fraud. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

 

A proliferation of online services for third-level students offering “pay as you go” essays has prompted universities to review their policies against plagiarism.

DCU is one of a number of institutions that are altering their methods of assessment, in tandem with the rollout of “cut-and-paste” detection software, to combat the threat of academic fraud.

The Irish Times has identified a number of Irish students using websites such as Odesk. com and Elance. com where they have posted ads seeking freelance academics to write essays for them at a rate of up €50 an hour.

An Irish website writemyassignments.com says it has enjoyed “a growing demand from Irish students which is increasing year on year”.

Like the other sites, however, it says it does not support plagiarism but rather offers academic assistance, including sample essays that should be referenced as such by students.

Among those recruiting help through Elance.com this month was a Dublin student who was seeking a freelance academic to write a 4,000-word paper on the topic: “Has the emergence of the troika undermined democracy in Europe?”

While his profile said he was based abroad, and did not mention the name of his university, his tender documents identified the university. They also inadvertently mentioned his lecturer’s name.

The student said he would pay $600-$750 (€560-€700), based on 15 hours’ work, and the offer was snapped up two days later.

Dr Mark Glynn, head of DCU’s teaching enhancement unit, said plagiarism was an age-old problem but “with the advent of the internet the issue of external people writing essays or papers has become more prevalent”.

The university tackles it using anti-plagiarism software Turntin, which generates a report on each essay submitted. Alarm bells are raised if more than 20 per cent of the text matches existing sources online.

“We don’t have it as law across the entire university” but the software was routinely used at undergraduate level right up to PhDs, he said.

Companies offering “pay-as-you-go” essays were “relatively easy to detect” using this software, Dr Glynn said. But the university was also tackling the problem with “pedagogical solutions”.

“We ask students to submit their work in stages and drafts, and offer several types of assignments. This is not just good teaching practice; it helps to prevent any cheating.”

Dr Glynn said universities faced a challenge in “proving without doubt the person has plagiarised”, especially in today’s litigious culture.

But, he stressed, “most plagiarism I have come across has been out of ignorance rather than malice, where they did not reference properly. So we spend a lot of time explaining to people what is plagiarism because at second level they’ve gone through a system of rote learning, or cutting and pasting.”

Plagiarism policy

TCDUCDUniversity Times

Dublin-based company writemyassignments.com charges students €150-€600 for “sample papers” depending on the level and word count required. However, it states in its terms and conditions that these should not be used for educational progression, and the company does “not condone . . . any form of plagiarism”.

Teaching graduate Louise Foley, who runs the website, said that students could already receive grinds for exams through various providers. “We are here to offer grinds for assignments. Over 60 per cent of college grades and modules are made up of continuous assessment and therefore it is important that students who require assistance can avail of it.”