THE BLOG
24/03/2014 09:49 GMT | Updated 24/05/2014 06:59 BST

How Ghost-Writers Are Killing University Degrees

I am feeling very much in demand these days. In fact, I am positively inundated with requests for my services. In these difficult economic times, when other people are desperately hunting for work, the work is hunting me. What skills do I have that are in such demand? I am a University Lecturer, with several degrees including a PhD. This makes me prime head-hunting material for the dozens of student essay-writing services that are proliferating on the internet.

And, if I am being head-hunted to ghost-write student essays so aggressively, you can bet that our nation's students are being targeted just as forcibly to buy into these 'cheating services'. Today's student need not complete a single piece of coursework themselves across their entire degree. For a relatively small sum (when compared with the 9K a year their degree is costing them), they can simply buy individually tailored essays, dissertations and even theses from the many sources pushing their services. It's easy; you simply submit your essay title, any lecture notes, the deadline and your credit card details - then go off to the pub and wait for someone else's lovely coursework to ping into your in-box. You can even specify what degree class you want the essay to earn, paying a premium for higher standards of work.

Such services are not illegal. Most are advertised as to be used for 'guidance' only; in other words, the companies get around the law by insisting that their aim is to provide 'model answers' for learning purposes only. They usually insist, quite sternly, that no student should ever submit a piece of coursework that they have not themselves written. Yeah, right.

Universities use expensive software designed to detect students who cheat, but Turnitin can only detect plagiarised work, not original work that has not been penned by the student. Thus, it is nigh on impossible to detect students who use professional essay-writing services. And, given the proliferation of these services, we can only assume that their use is increasing. Which means that it is highly likely that a large percentage of our University graduates will be clutching ghost-written degrees at their graduation ceremonies this summer.

Ghost-writing is killing the value of the University degree. If we lecturers can't tell when students are cheating in this way, employers certainly can't. Horrifyingly, few subjects are exempt from ghost-writing services - including nurses, doctors and others whose honest abilities we might all be relying upon at some point.

Ghost-written coursework is proliferating for a number of reasons, mostly economic. Today's student is often both cash-poor and time-poor, weighed down as they are under the burden of student loans. Most work to pay rent, some almost full-time hours on top of their supposedly full-time degree. Their sunk costs are so high that failure is not an option and whilst I am certainly not condoning students who cheat in this way, it is no wonder that more and more are turning to others to produce the coursework that they lack the time or ability to do themselves.

If some students are unable to resist the lure of cheating, what about those who are facilitating it? The essay-writers are graduates themselves, with postgraduates and PhD holders in great demand. And yes, some are undoubtedly University lecturers looking to make a few quid on the side. Whilst it is the cheating student who is most culpable, all those in the chain are helping to devalue the very product that they are supposed to be building - the University degree.

Universities are having to adapt by reducing the amount of coursework they give to students, which is grossly unfair on the majority of honest students, and of course, returns us to the memory-tests of traditional exams. Coursework was supposed to allow a broader depth of skill and knowledge to be assessed, but when we no longer know who we are assessing, this could turn out to be worthless.

I would like to see action taken to stop degree ghost-writers in their tracks. Perhaps the industry should be regulated, forcing any ghost-written essay to be submitted by the seller to plagiarism detection sites so that should the student try to pass it off as their own, they will be caught. This won't stop the rogue sites, but at least it will send a clear message to students that passing off ghost-written work as their own is unacceptable.

In the meantime, I won't be taking up any of the offers in my in-box to ghost-write student essays. After all, I could end up having to mark my own essay one day.