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Online plagiarism threatens UK degrees

Many sites report incomes in millions as students prefer to buy assignments instead of spending hours poring over books in the library.

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Online plagiarism threatens UK degrees
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LONDON: The practice of online sites selling essays and completed assignments to students has reached a £200 million business, threatening to seriously undermine the quality of British education, academics and MPs say.

The issue has reached such proportions that the House of Commons education select committee is to hold a special session later this year to investigate it. Vice-chancellors of British universities have scheduled a ‘plagiarism summit’ in October. New online sites are appearing almost every week while many sites report incomes in millions as students prefer to buy their assignments instead of spending hours poring over books in the library and working on the coursework.

Early this year, Alan Grafen, senior proctor at Oxford University, warned that widespread plagiarism threatened the value of an Oxford degree. A recent study found that one in six university students admits to cheating in some way. According to investigation by Robert Clarke and Thomas Lancaster of the University of Central England, Internet cheating and selling tailored essays has assumed the dimensions of international trade. They call the trend ‘contract cheating.’

Many online sites outsource the essays required to experts who are then paid a portion of the fee paid to the site by the students. Reports say that many such experts are based in India, particularly in the area of information technology. Such sites, however, refute that they encourage plagiarism. They claim that their work is mainly intended as a ‘guide’ to students.

The owner of one such online company, www.ukessays.com, Barclay Littlewood, told The Guardian, “Our turnover for 2005 was £1.6 million. In one week in early May we took £90,000. One of our customers has spent £17,000 with us. My overheads are pretty low because we work from home and our writers work on commission. So I take about a third of £1.6 million.” His company is reported to have supplied more than 15,000 people with tailor-made essays since the business began in 2003.

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