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  1. ITV Report

Universities urged to block 'essay mill' websites to help crack down on student cheating

New guidance suggests institutions use smarter plagiarism detecting software. Credit: PA

Universities are being urged to consider blocking "essay mill" websites, which produce work for students for payment, in a bid to crack down on cheating.

They are also being advised to use smarter plagiarism detecting software by universities watchdog the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).

A report released by the QAA suggests a raft of measures which could be implemented to help deter "contract cheating", including:

  • Using linguistic analysis tools to detect changes in a student's writing style and employing text-matching software
  • Blocking known essay mill websites from the organisation's IT systems
  • Providing support for struggling students
  • Introducing a mixture of assessments to limit cheating opportunities
The measures are aimed at clamping down on the use of online essay writing services. Credit: PA

Students already face penalties for academic misconduct - including the use of essay services.

They range from losing marks to being removed from a degree course, depending on the circumstances and severity of the case.

But the report urges universities to make it explicit to students that cheating could cost them their qualification.

Cheating could cost students their qualifications. Credit: PA

Last year, an investigation by the QAA found there were more than 100 essay mill websites in operation.

Essay prices vary depending on the nature of the work and the deadline, but can range from a couple of hundred pounds to around £6,750 for a PhD dissertation.

The new guidance for institutions on how to deal with the issue was drawn up following a request from the universities minister Jo Johnson.

Speaking earlier this year, Mr Johnson said: ''This form of cheating is unacceptable and every university should have strong policies and sanctions in place to detect and deal with it.

''Essay mill websites threaten to undermine the high-quality reputation of a UK degree so it is vital that the sector works together to address this in a consistent and robust way.''