Friday, April 19Royal Holloway's offical student publication, est. 1986

Essay Mills

Every student at Royal Holloway knows the feeling of stressing over deadlines, essays, and assignments. From midterm to the end of the term, the level of stress reaches an all-time-high. Some students decide to take the weight off their shoulders by contacting ‘essay mills’ or by using fellow students to write their essays.

An essay mill is a company that provides provides academic essays in exchange for money, tailored to any course, module, or specific essay question. These companies have professional business models; they are very easy to find and contact. I decided to get in touch with an essay mill to see just how easy it was to commission a piece. Within five minutes, I received an offer of a 3000-word essay for a price of £150. The person in the chat-room was extremely pushy and wanted me to decide immediately whether I wanted their service or not.

Several media outlets have recently commented on the use of essay mills, ’40 university Chiefs have written to the Education Secretary calling for a ban on essay mills’ (The Guardian, 2018). Universities have previously raised their concerns regarding the ‘integrity of degree courses’ as more students are using these services than ever before. Swansea University has been conducting a study since 1978 on the use of these services, and found a 15.7% increase between 2014 and 2018. University Chiefs look to other countries that have banned essay mills and endeavour for the UK to do the same. ‘Sam Gyimah, the universities minister, says outlawing the services remains an option, although work is ongoing to tackle the problem by other means’ (The Guardian).

These ‘other means’ have been to educate students on the consequences of using these services and have successfully lobbied YouTube to ban essay mill adverts. These measures will never be fully successful as there will always be ‘ghost writers’ at universities: students who willing to write assignments for fellow students. I spoke to two so-called ‘ghost writers’ who have been paid to write essays, and even whole dissertations, here at Royal Holloway. The pay rate depends on the amount of work and normally starts at 50 pounds and goes up to 500 pounds and above. These ‘ghost writers’ have different reasons for doing this extra work alongside their own studies. The biggest motivator is their economic gain, but they have also mentioned the academic challenge and educational benefits of writing essays on – and learning about – different topics. Students who contact them have a lack of interest in their course and lack of motivation to do their own work; laziness seems to be a contributing factor.

As long as there is a demand for these services, there will always be some form of supply, which enables the development of this market. It is no surprise that if a student is caught using essay mills, their degree is annulled. The ghost-writer will always have their own writing style which will affect the continuity of the individuals’ essays. Without using essay mills for all essays during their degree, it seems illogical that they won’t get caught. However, since there is no plagiarism in the works of the ghost writers it is hard for universities to detect this form of cheating. It is problematic that students who have chosen their own degree have such a lack of motivation that they wish to use these services; they will finish university with a flawed degree.

A common Norwegian saying is “pissing in your pants to keep warm” – an analogy for short-sighted strategies which backfire as it freezes after two minutes of warm, wet bliss. The use of essay mills and ghost-writers is definitely a classic “pissing in your pants to keep warm” scenario – nasty and short-sighted.