A student-centred approach to tackling contract cheating in higher education

A student-centred approach to tackling contract cheating in higher education

Universities Scotland would like to see legislation to make the operation and advertisement of essay writing and other contract cheating services in Scotland illegal. These include essay mills and similar, as well as services aiming to sell university applications/personal statements, and even PhD theses.

The operation and advertisement of contract cheating services is banned in England (Skills and Post-16 Education Act, April 2022), and we do not want to see those services migrating into Scotland due to a lack of regulation here.  Not only do they compromise academic integrity, they often pitch themselves as legitimate services, and we are also aware of instances where they have actively preyed on the vulnerabilities of students through attempted blackmail.

Any rules or legislation to ban contract cheating should be carefully focused on the services advertising and delivering it.  Contract cheating is not widespread in Scotland, and legislation should not seek to blame or criminalise students, who may have acted improperly with regard to using such a service without full realisation.

Academic misconduct by students should be handled by universities and institutions have academic codes of practice in place to manage these situations, including penalties for students where appropriate. Universities work hard to ensure that students understand these codes of conduct. Every higher education institution in Scotland is signatory to the QAA’s Academic Integrity Charter, which has over 200 signatories across the UK. Institutions which sign up to this Charter commit to implementing seven key principles, and to working with staff and students to, in collaboration across the sector, protect and promote academic integrity, and take action against academic misconduct.

In most cases, students who consider the use of contract cheating services are doing so because of a range of pressures they are experiencing. That is why universities approach this holistically and strongly encourage any student who is struggling on any basis to contact their university’s student services or seek the advice of their Students’ Association.

Key Points:

  • So-called “essay mills” should be banned in Scotland by legislation.
  • This would be similar to moves in England.
  • Focus should be on those who provide such services, students should not be blamed or criminalised for use of essay mills.


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