In November, the U.K.’s Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), which works with schools to review and safeguard the quality and integrity of post-secondary learning, wrote to PayPal asking the company to stop processing payments related to college cheating, the buying and selling of academic work such as custom essays.
“We need your help,” the letter read, “to close down the payment facilities for the essay writing companies that encourage students to cheat.”
A month earlier, 40 Vice-Chancellors of U.K. Universities signed a letter to the national education secretary urging him to ban so-called essay mills, the companies that churn out pre-written or custom work for students for a fee. There is no national prohibition on creating, running, selling or using services like these in the U.K.
The U.K.’s academic leaders are right to ask for help and they should get it – not just from their national government but from tech companies such as PayPal, Google, YouTube and others. There’s ample moral reason to not help cheaters. There are economic ones too. Faulty, fake, fabricated learning undermines job preparation and the very heart of academia and expertise. Quoting the QAA letter, “PayPal and other employers risk taking on graduates who lack the skills, knowledge and competencies which they rightly believe higher education qualifications ought to provide.”
Most schools call using academic work that is not your own, “academic fraud.” It is.
PayPal isn’t alone here. Google has already interceded to block ads and search content from some services it considers inappropriate. In December, in response to an investigation and inquiry by the BBC, YouTube and Facebook moved to block content from companies and influencers selling cheating materials and services.
So, the question then is not whether technology companies can cut access and payment links between cheating sellers and cheating buyers, the question is whether they will. According to news coverage in Britain, PayPal says a review is underway.
Let’s hope so. The QAA, for example, identified 17,000 academic offences in the U.K. in 2016 alone. One essay writing company in the U.K. told the press that it, by itself, processes 12,000 paid essays a year. Clearly, it’s a problem – and not just in the U.K.
Contract cheating is an international problem and reliable estimates put the contract cheating business globally at a $1 billion annual market. According to this study cited in the letter to PayPal, 15.7%, or about 31 million students around the globe, admitted paying someone else to do their work – admitted it.
The author of that study, Professor Phil Newton (no relation), “suggests that the data he found is actually likely to underestimate levels of contract cheating, for the simple reason that students who engage in contract cheating are less likely to volunteer to participate in surveys about cheating.”
In the U.S., the rates and raw numbers of paid cheating are far higher than the admitted global average and higher even than in Britain. It’s so common that it’s implausible to think that any school, any course of study, any professor has not been touched by paid cheating.
So, where are the Americans?
Thus far, there’s been no U.S. leadership to match the British in acknowledging the problem or seeking help. The Brits clearly get the clarion threat to their entire education system. They told PayPal, “Our U.K. universities are internationally recognised for their high academic standards….However, our academic integrity is being threatened by the growing number of companies that prey on vulnerable students by selling customised essays.”
Surely, American universities are no less recognized and they’re every bit as vulnerable. Yet, in America, the response to cheating has been silence.
Like the U.K., the United States has no national ban on owning, running or using essay mills. There’s not even a national ban on submitting fake school work. And no group of colleges or college leaders has even publicly requested one. U.S. schools could join the U.K. requests to PayPal and YouTube and others, but they have not. It would be a shame, and speak volumes, if PayPal and YouTube and others move to limit cheating in Britain but leave the floodgates open in the U.S. simply because no one asked that they be shut.
U.K. Colleges Ask PayPal, Google To Shut Access To Cheating Sites – Forbes