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safeguarding standards and improving the quality of UK higher education

Cheating in higher education: new guidance on prevention

Date 09/10/2017

How to tackle essay companies that help students cheat their way to qualifications is the subject of new guidance launched by QAA, the independent quality body for UK higher education.

Following QAA's investigation into essay mills last year, universities minister Jo Johnson MP asked QAA to work on measures to combat so-called 'contract cheating', where students pay a company or individual to produce work they then pass off as their own.

The new guidance recommends:

  • clear information for students on the risks of cheating, including academic misconduct being reported to relevant professional bodies
  • support for students to develop independent study skills, including academic writing
  • using a range of assessment methods to limit opportunities for cheating
  • blocking essay mill sites and taking action against essay mill advertising on campus
  • smarter detection, including new software and greater familiarity with students' personal styles and capabilities
  • appropriate support for whistle blowing - to protect accuser as well as accused
  • student involvement on academic misconduct policies and panels.

Jo Johnson says: 'This form of cheating is unacceptable and pernicious.

'It not only undermines standards in our world-class universities, but devalues the hard-earned qualifications of those who don't cheat, and can even, when it leads to graduates practising with inadequate professional skills, endanger the lives of others.

'That is why I asked the Quality Assurance Agency to look at this issue and introduce new guidance for students and providers.

'I welcome the publication of this guidance and expect the new regulator, the Office for Students, to ensure that the sector implements strong policies and sanctions to address this important issue in the most robust way possible.'

QAA chief executive Douglas Blackstock says: 'It is important that students are not duped by these unscrupulous essay companies.

'Paying someone else to write essays is wrong and could damage their career. Education providers should take appropriate action to tackle and prevent this kind of abuse.'

QAA supports a consistent approach among higher education providers in tackling the problem. We are also asking universities and colleges to record incidents of this and other kinds of cheating, to help build a clearer picture of the scale of the problem in UK higher education.

As well as the new guidance for higher education providers, QAA is also working on guidance for students. The National Union of Students is running a similar campaign to combat contract cheating with students.