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Contract Cheating & Essay Mills
One of the biggest threats to academic integrity at the moment is the use of contract cheating services, also known as "essay mills". Generally, contract cheating refers to having a third party produce academic work on your behalf. This could be a friend, family member, or tutor, or it could be a company or online service. Whether or not payment is made for the academic work, this is academic misconduct as it is a form of plagiarism wherein the person who has undertaken the work is not the one who is submitting it or receiving credit for it. While there are serious consequences for contract cheating regardless of who the third party is, there are additional risks associated with the companies offering to complete your work for you for a fee.
Companies offering to write your assignments for you, or essay mills, are one of the most common forms of contract cheating services operating online. If you search for help writing an essay online, these services may be some of the first results you get. Equally, if you post on social media about struggling with assignments, bots representing these services might respond to you directing you to their websites. Often these sites advertise their services as strictly helping students with their work, like a tutoring service, and as being completely legal, and 100% plagiarism free – so it can be easy to mistake them for a helpful resource. However, this is not the case. In fact, these services are operating illegally in Ireland, and any time you submit work that you have not completed yourself, it is plagiarism. Be wary of any site that offers to “help” you with your assignments in this way.
Using these online services can pose several risks to you as a student, beyond the repercussions of academic misconduct within the University. As these services are operating illegally, they are not regulated, and your data may not be safe with them. There have been several leaks of student information from these services in the past. Equally, while they may guarantee quality work within a certain timeframe, they cannot be held to this, and will often provide students with work past the deadline that does not receive good marks. This means that you may receive poor marks on this work in addition to missing out on the learning involved in doing your own work, and the ability to develop and improve your work with the feedback you will receive on it. Finally, these services sometimes blackmail students by threatening to inform the University of their misconduct if the student does not continue to pay them.
These services often target students who are under pressure with their assignments, presenting themselves as being there for you when the University is not. The reality, however, is that they are just trying to make money, they won’t help you develop your own work or skills, and they can add to stress and anxiety by being unreliable or even threatening. If you are struggling with any of your assignments, please reach out to your lecturer or tutor to come up with a plan, connect with the Skills Centre, or look at our online resources out of hours. Do not turn to these services for help!
Since 2019, Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) is able to prosecute these services – not the students who use them! – in an effort to try to stop them operating. If you are contacted by one of these services, please report the details to QQI. You can do this anonymously in the feedback section of their #MyOwnWork page.
For more information about academic integrity and contract cheating, complete the lesson below. Answer the questions at the end of the lesson to receive a certificate.
Understanding Academic Misconduct
Academic misconduct is defined as "any action, or attempted action that undermines academic integrity and may result in an unfair advantage or disadvantage for any member of the academic community or wider society" (NAIN, Lexicon of Common Terms). These actions can take many forms, and can sometimes occur inadvertantly, so it is important to develop an understanding of various types of academic misconduct and the University's policies and regulations.
For more information on UCC's policies, take a look at UCC's Procedures & Regulations regarding plagiarism and examinations. If you are a postgraduate student, you can find information and procedures specific to you, including a code of conduct for research integrity, here.
For a quick overview of some common forms of academic misconduct, see below, or check out our Academic Misconduct Quick Guide.
When you present the work or ideas of others as your own it is plagiarism. Always cite materials you use from others to give credit to the originators of the work, even if you are paraphrasing.
Reusing your own work without citing where you have previously submitted it is considered self-plagiarism or auto-plagiarism.
Undisclosed collaboration of two or more people on an assignment that is meant to be completed individually is considered collusion. You can study together or discuss ideas, but make sure that when you submit an individual assignment it is done by yourself.
When a third party produces academic work for you that you submit as your own it is a form of plagiarism known as contract cheating. Services such as essay mills may approach you and offer to write your assignment for you, advertising themselves as plagiarism-free, but this is untrue.
Fabrication or falsification occurs when academic documents, records, or research activities are forged or manipulated to inaccurately represent the content. This can include making up or omitting data or relevant information, and altering results.
Do not distribute any materials from a class outside of that class without permission to do so. This includes slides, handouts, assignment details, or your own assignments.
Breaches range from impersonation - someone other than the registered student taking the exam on their behalf - to bringing in unauthorised materials or your mobile ringing. Familiarise yourself with UCC's Procedures & Regulations for examinations to avoid breaching any regulations!