Forget plagiarism: A new and bigger  threat to academic integrity
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Academic plagiarism is no longer just sloppy “cut and paste” jobs or students cribbing large chunks of an assignment from a friend’s earlier essay on the same topic. These days, students can simply visit any of a number of paper or essay mills that litter the internet and buy a completed assignment to present as their own. These shadowy businesses are not going away anytime soon. Paper mills can’t be easily policed or shut down by legislation. And there’s a trickier issue at play here: they provide a service which an alarming number of students will happily use. Managing this newest form of academic deceit will require hard work from established academia and a renewed commitment to integrity from university communities. Unmasking the “shadow scholar” In November 2010, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article that rocked the academic world. Its anonymous author confessed to having written more than 5000 pages of scholarly work per year on behalf of university students. Ethics was among the many issues this author had tackled for clients. The practice continues five years on. At a conference about plagiarism held in the Czech Republic in June 2015, one speaker revealed that up to 22% of students in some Australian undergraduate programmes had admitted to buying or intending to buy assignments on the Internet. It also emerged that the paper mill business was booming. One site claims to receive two million hits each month for its 5000 free downloadable papers. Another allows cheats to electronically interview the people who will write their papers. Some even claim to employ university professors to guarantee the quality of work.
Policing and legislation becomes difficult because the company selling assignments may be domiciled in the US while its “suppliers”, the ghostwriters, are based elsewhere in the world. The client, a university student, could be anywhere in the world – New York City, Lagos, London, Nairobi or Johannesburg. No quick fixes If the companies and writers are all shadows, how can paper mills be stopped? The answers most likely lie with university students – and with the academics who teach them. The anonymous writer whose paper mill tales shocked academia explained in the piece which kinds of students were using these services and just how much they were willing to pay. At the time of writing, he was making about US$66,000 annually. His three main client groups were students for whom English is a second language; students who are struggling academically and those who are lazy and rich.
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