Students are paying £150 a time to have their essays and dissertations “edited” to give them a better chance of obtaining a top degree pass.
Concern is growing amongst academics and student leaders about the number of websites offering to help students submit “virtually flawless” essays to their universities for marking.
One, Custom Papers Editing Service run by Assignment Masters, with a contact telephone number in the United States, tell would-be clients: “There is No Shame in Admitting that You are Not an Excellent Writer - Just Share What You Have Written and We’ll Fix Your Essay From Start to End”.
It then lists a range of charges - depending on whether you want your work to be grade 2:2, 2:1 or a first - and how soon you need it. A 2:2 standard wanted within three hours would cost £18.95 per page while a first class work would be £21.95.
Its website continues: “Without proper editing, you can lose anywhere from between 10 and 30 per cent of your marks. It’s arguably more difficult than writing the assignment yourself.”
Another organisation, Oxbridge Proofreading, which describes itself as “the UK’s most trusted Academic Proofreading and editing Service”, boasts that “all our editors hold elite qualifications from the universities of Oxford or Cambridge and know exactly what’s required to make your academic writing a success”.
Universities have long been concerned about a spate of organisations offering to write students’ essays for them, but have up until now paid little attention to the growth of services offering to edit essays and dissertations.
The view amongst lecturers’ leaders is they are “just as bad as essay mills in many ways”.
“Checking work before handing it in is a sensible approach that should be encouraged,” said Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union. “However, employing other people to do that is simply not acceptable."
She added: “Getting other people to improve or do your work defeats the very purpose of going to university. Students who feel they need extra help in certain areas should be able to ask for it. They should not be employing other people to make up any shortfalls in their knowledge."
Megan Dunn, vice-president in charge of higher education at the National Union of Students, added: “Usually these services tend to prey on the insecurities and vulnerabilities of students for profit, often international students who may be led to believe that their written skills are not good enough.
“Most universities offer free services to support students to develop their academic writing skills anyway and, if they do not, this is something they should think about doing.”
Some organisations are supported by universities in seeking to help with students’ work. For instance, Oxbridge Editing is recommended to international students by a number of leading universities to help them improve their communications skills in English.
“We don’t write in any content,” said its director Rhodri Walters. “In fact, we are helping overcome an unfair disadvantage for those who struggle.”
He said the number of organisations offering editing services was growing and said he was “aware” of at least one company which was offering a cruder editing service for essays.
The organisations are quick to defend themselves on their websites, with Oxbridge Proofreading saying: “You want to get better grades, a better qualification and a better career so you can enjoy a better future. Our editors can make this happen for you.”
However, it could not be contacted for further comment.
The US-based organisation Assignment Masters asked The Independent to email it with any queries but - by the time of press - had not replied to an email.
A third service, Essay Villa, which offers an easy editing and proofreading service UK, initially asked if The Independent wanted to place an order with it and then said it could not help.
The verdict: ‘Professional’ website fails to make the grade
By Aubrey Allegretti
Submitting my essay was easy and I can see the attraction of using these types of sites.
When the finished product was returned, a number of things stood out: a fancy title sheet had been added and with enhanced formatting my work now looked as though it was going to be published by Penguin. A nice touch – but academia doesn’t need that glam. My font also got an upgrade – although with hindsight, maybe Comic Sans was a bad idea.
What stood out most for me was the relatively poor standard of syntax and grammar that remained even after the editing.
For a website that professed such high standards, it was a disappointment. For £17.95 per page I was entitled to have high expecations. Instead, I got glaring errors, such as “once a government is in office” becoming “once a government is in the office”. There were also rogue commas and barely noticeable changes to sentences that had made little sense when I submitted it.
So much for the professional service.
Maybe I’ll just take my chances next time and put it through spellcheck myself rather than paying someone £150 to do it for me.