It’s an extremely common problem that most students come across at some point: it’s a few days before an important university hand-in and, for some reason best known to yourself, you’ve not even started the assignment yet. The typical approach to this dilemma is to write the assignment in the limited time you’ve got left – perhaps even leaving it until the day before – pulling all-nighters and making sure Snapchat knows every sordid detail of your predicament. It may not be recommended in the university handbook, but at least it’s an honest representation of your work.
There is, however, an alternative solution to this predicament which is used by far more students than you probably realise: paying others online to write essays for you. For obvious reasons, I have been unsuccessful in finding students willing to admit to using ghostwriting services, and it is impossible to gather data on precisely how many students do so, but suffice it to say, if you Google search ‘essay proof-reading services’ (which also write essays on demand), or even the more blatant, ‘assignment ghostwriting services’, you will not be short of results.
These services haunt academics at university, who find it almost impossible to prove that essays were ghost-written, as – unlike plagiarised essays – there is no equivalent detection service. In addition, the services can be pricey: although many sites are coy about their prices, an anonymous ghostwriter told Times Higher Education that he can make up to £150 for an essay of 2,000-3,000 words, and up to £2,000 for longer essays. Unsurprisingly, the result which the assignment obtains can also determine the price.
Although ghostwriting is not currently illegal, and does not lead to students being penalised in the same way as plagiarism at the moment, I am sure I am not alone in feeling that if my friend received an excellent mark for a ghostwritten essay, I’d be irritated and feel it was unfair.
But, you might be wondering, why would you feel the need to pay someone else to write your assignments for you in the first place? Is it just laziness or incompetence which allows these services to prosper? Julia Molinari, a PhD researcher and English for Academic Purposes (EAP) tutor at Nottingham University thinks not. She writes in an insightful blog for the The Guardian why she thinks overseas students in particular can turn to ghostwriters:
“Obtaining a degree really matters to the UK’s 2.5 million students (their parents and sponsors), half a million of whom are from overseas. […] Such pressure can contribute to inequitable levels of competition. Could you produce lengthy academic assignments without having benefited from a traditional academic background or without English as your first language?
Academic discourse is highly complex, and inherently culture and discipline-specific. It requires extensive reading and is also rapidly evolving. In the same situation, I too might be tempted to ask for help, plagiarise, or drop out.”
“However, since all students – including those who write for themselves – are subject to the same assignments, deadlines and assessment criteria, it is unfair for universities to collude tacitly with ghostwriting.”
To me, Molinari’s argument rings true. With the ever-rising costs of studying and the fear of uncertain graduate employment, university can seem more and more like a pressurised production line of assignments which are used in order to reach the next step: to enable you to graduate and to secure a job. These ghostwriting services are responding to this marketisation of the university experience: something which I feel should be avoided at all costs.
University is about so much more than the assignments you hand in or the grades you leave with, and it is a disconcerting thought that more and more students are resorting to the dishonesty of ghostwriting in order to get them through what should be one of the most enriching times of their lives.
By Georgia Tindale