Where Do I Sign?

I’m delighted to see that senior HE figures are joining the call for the Government to take legislative action against essay mills. if you haven’t signed the petition yet you can do so here.

Today, 40 Vice Chancellors and HE heads have written to the Secretary of State. Our own Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah weighed in heavily saying:

‘I expect universities to be educating students about these services and highlight the stiff, and possibly life changing, penalties they face.

I also want the sector to do more to grip the problem, for example by tackling advertising of these services in their institutions and finally blocking these services from sending an alarming number of emails to the inboxes of university students and staff.

I have been working with organisations across the higher education sector to bear down on this problem and this has already resulted in the likes of YouTube removing adverts for these essay mills, but legislative options are not off the table.’

News outlets are covering the story, but here is the letter in full.

I’d be happy to add my name to the list.

The Right Honourable Damian Hinds MP
Secretary of State for Education
27 September 2018

Essay Mills and Contract Cheating

Dear Secretary of State,

We are writing to urge you to take action against the increasing problem of so-called essay mills, companies that facilitate contract cheating by producing assignments-to-order for students. Essay mills undermine the integrity of UK Higher Education and are unfair to the vast majority of honest, hard-working students. We are confident that you abhor such cheating as much as we do and encourage you to take the necessary steps to curb these practices, steps which must include a legislative ban on operating or advertising an essay mill.

In March 2017, Lord Young of Cookham, representing the Government, told Parliament that, ‘we remain open to legislation in the future should the steps we are taking prove insufficient.’ Despite concerted action by the QAA, universities and student unions, new research published last month indicates that contract cheating is becoming more common around the world. This form of cheating is particularly hard to detect and, whilst universities must continue to do their part, it is clear to us the time has come for the Government to give legislative backing to the efforts to shut down these
operations.

Legislation will not be a magic bullet; it is, however, a vital part of the broader package of measures. Legislation would, amongst other advantages, shut-down UK-based essay mills; prevent the advertising of their services near campuses and in public places such as the London Underground; enable the removal of essay mills from search engine findings and prevent UK-based companies from hosting online advertisements for essay mills. Most importantly, it will send a clear statement to the global Higher Education sector that the integrity of a UK degree is valued by the government. Any
legislation would need to be carefully crafted, in particular to ensure that the law targeted the essay mills themselves, and did not criminalise students or legitimate educational services. There are, however, existing models, including the Bill recently introduced by the Irish government and the draft bill published by Newton and Draper in 2017, either of which provide a starting point for developing legislation for the UK.

We therefore call upon you to:

• Commit to introducing legislation to ban the provision and advertising of essay mills before the end of this Parliament.

• Commission the QAA to develop and publish a draft Bill by or before the beginning of the next Parliamentary Session, building on their existing work with academic and legal experts.

• Give your Department’s full support to efforts by the QAA and OfS to tackle this issue,
including supporting the QAA’s proposed initiative to establish a UK Centre for Academic
Integrity, with a formal remit to research, analyse and combat academic misconduct.

Essay mills have no place in UK Higher Education. With New Zealand, Ireland, Australia and 17 US states all having introduced or introducing a ban, it is time for the UK to also take the necessary action to demonstrate that the UK is not a safe haven for Essay Mills to do business, and so to safeguard the reputation of the UK Higher Education sector.

Yours sincerely,

Professor Michael Arthur – President and Provost, University College London
Professor Dame Janet Beer  – Vice-Chancellor, University of Liverpool
Professor Amanda Blackmore – President and Chief Executive, GSM London
Professor Paul Boyle CBE – Vice-Chancellor, University of Leicester
Dr Tim Bradshaw – Chief Executive, Russell Group
Professor Hugh Brady – Vice-Chancellor and President, University of Bristol
Cath Brown – President, Open University Students Association
Professor Julia Buckingham CBE – Vice-Chancellor and President, Brunel University London
Professor Edward Byrne AC – President and Principal, King’s College London
Professor Anne Carlisle – Vice-Chancellor, Falmouth University
Professor Joy Carter CBE – Vice-Chancellor, University of Winchester and Chair of GuildHE
Professor Stuart Corbridge – Vice-Chancellor and Warden, Durham University
Professor Stuart Croft – Vice-Chancellor, University of Warwick
Mary Curnock Cook OBE – Former Chief Executive, UCAS
Professor Scott Davidson – Vice-Chancellor, Newman University
Professor Chris Day – Vice-Chancellor and President, Newcastle University
Professor Linda Drew – Vice-Chancellor, Ravensbourne University London
Professor Sir David Eastwood – Vice-Chancellor, University of Birmingham
Sir Mark Featherstone-Witty OBE – Founding Principal/CEO, Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts
Professor Ian Greer – President and Vice-Chancellor, Queen’s University Belfast
Professor Gavin Henderson CBE – Principal, The Royal Centre School of Speech and Drama
Professor Margaret House OBE – Vice-Chancellor, Leeds Trinity University
Professor Sir Chris Husbands – Vice-Chancellor, Sheffield Hallam University
Alistair Jarvis – Chief Executive, Universities UK
Alison Johns – Chief Executive, AdvanceHE
Professor Mary Kellett – Acting Vice-Chancellor, The Open University
Professor Koen Lamberts – Vice-Chancellor, University of York
Professor John Last OBE – Vice-Chancellor, Norwich University of the Arts
Dr David Llewellyn – Vice-Chancellor, Harper Adams University
Professor Jane Longmore – Vice-Chancellor, University of Chichester
Professor Sally Mapstone – Principal and Vice-Chancellor, University of St Andrews
Russell Marchant – Vice-Chancellor, Hartpury University
Gordon McKenzie – Chief Executive, GuildHE
Clarie Middleton – Principal and Chief Executive, Rose Bruford College
Professor Kathryn Mitchell – Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, University of Derby
Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli – Vice-Chancellor, University of Glasgow and Chair of the Russell Group
Professor Malcolm Press – Vice-Chancellor, Manchester Metropolitan University
Professor Colin Riordan – Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University
Sir Anthony Seldon – Vice-Chancellor, University of Buckingham
Bilal Sheikh – Principal, Mont Rose College
Professor Sir Steve Smith – Vice-Chancellor, University of Exeter
Professor Karen Stanton – Vice-Chancellor, York St John University
Professor Rob Warner – Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, Plymouth Marjon University
Dr Greg Walker – CEO, MillionPlus
Professor Andrew Wathey CBE – Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive, Northumbria University
Professor Shearer West Vice-Chancellor, University of Nottingham

Jayne Rowley – Chief Executive, HECSU Prospects

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Best Practice Makes Perfect

This month we’ve published the findings from our first Degree Fraud – Best Practice Round Table held at the Manchester Chamber of Commerce earlier this summer.

Colleagues and experts from 7 universities came together to discuss the issues facing universities – from fraudulent applications to fake certificates threatening the reputation of UK higher education and the career prospects of our students and graduates.

Tom Pinder from our Hedd team shares the outcomes on our digital HE intelligence platform, Luminate.

We’re planning more events later in the Autumn. If you would like to be involved please get in touch with us at heddteam@prospects.ac.uk

In the meantime you can download a copy of our toolkit of advice and guidance for HE Providers here.

Stop! in the name of the Law #2

Hot on the heels of South Africa and Belgium Ireland’s is the next Government to propose legislation to combat higher education fraud.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that cheating your way to a degree is as bad as lying about one.

So we are delighted that the use of contract cheating services aka essay mills looks set to become illegal in Ireland in the Autumn.

A Bill has just been published with amendments to Qualifications and Quality Assurance legislation in Ireland making it an offence to provide or advertise cheating services.

Whilst students are already subject to the rules of their institutions about cheating, it has been impossible to deal with the thousands of essay mills putting pressure on students on campus, by email and even on posters in the London Underground to buy their writing services.

Lord Storey proposed an amendment to the Higher Education Research Act last year to tackle contract cheating in the UK, but it didn’t make it to legislation.

Hedd is part of the new QAA working group on academic integrity which has identified the legislative route as one of the priorities for the group. Last year the QAA published excellent guidance for HE Providers on this subject.

We have had some success using existing legislation to shut down bogus universities and  diploma mills, but it’s inadequate for essay mills in its current form.

Specific laws governing higher education fraud might not lead to many more prosecutions, but should be a more powerful deterrent. We urge the UK Government to follow the Irish example and stop these companies.

Stop! In the name of the law.

In the UK it’s possible to prosecute individuals with fake qualifications under existing fraud and forgery legislation and we can also target bogus universities and fake certificate websites under trademark, copyright and forgery legislation.

We encourage employers and education providers to take legal action when fraud is uncovered, but criminal prosecutions are few and far between.

South Africa is going one step further to stamp out degree fraud with a specific bill before Parliament, proposed by the South African Qualifications Authority (Saqa), Hedd’s equivalent verification hub and international partner.

The bill contains provisions that compel education institutions and employers to report fraudulent or misrepresented qualifications to Saqa, which works closely with the South African Police Service (SAPS) to pursue cases of alleged fraud.

This follows news from Belgium * that the Higher Education Commission of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation approved a proposal for a decree aimed at fighting the spread of fake universities across the country, which was subsequently adopted by the Government. Institutions will have to state clearly that they do not offer legally-recognised awards. It also imposes fines on institutions for misuse of protected terms such as ‘university’, ‘higher education institution’ and ‘faculty’.

We would welcome such legislation here in the UK and have shared details with colleagues at the Department for Education and the Office for Students to show what can be done.

*Links to a report in English rather than the original report from ‘7 sur 7’ in French.

Be(hold) the front page

Yes. I’m excited to pick up my free world cup giant wall chart….

but more excited that working with the Times over the past week got an important message about degree fraud on today’s front page.

‘Don’t take selfies with your certificates showing’ is the key message, writ large.

The story is here if you can get past the Times paywall.

And here in the Guardian or here in the Daily Mail if you can’t.

The Weakest Link

If you didn’t catch this week’s Panorama exposé on application fraud click here to see how faked qualifications are enabling bogus students to enrol on degree courses, paid for by taxpayer-funded student loans.

The undercover BBC investigation showed fake references and certificates being used to gain places on degree level courses at a number of universities and colleges. Having gained the places, the students then had access to student loans worth thousands of pounds. The rogue intermediaries and agents took their cut of the loans. But this is just the start of it.

The undercover students were then offered additional services to provide their assignments by using essay mills and cover their attendance requirements while they were at work. Now we’re talking about academic fraud.

With their bought-in assignments and fake certificates the students were able to get a genuine degree or diploma, albeit fraudulently obtained*.

Fraudulently obtained degrees could then be used to enter postgraduate study or the workplace putting the reputations of businesses and universities at risk from unqualified candidates. This also jeopardises the prospects for genuine students and graduates seeking jobs or further study if they lose out to fraudsters.

We must cut this off at the pass and stop bogus students enrolling in the first place and exploiting the system.

Unscrupulous agents will look for weak points in the system and colleges without clearly defined policies will be ripe for exploitation. Colleges and universities need to have robust and clearly visible fraud guidelines as part of their admissions policies and they must be prepared to take action against what is criminal activity.

Hedd HE Toolkit image Aug 2017

Download our free Toolkit with advice and guidance on preventing fraud. In the meantime here are our top tips.

  • Have a published policy on application fraud for your college or university
  • Tell applicants you always check qualifications. This can be a deterrent.
  • Don’t take certificates at face value. Verify the claims directly with the awarding body and trust the data, not the paper.
  • Take action against fraud – zero tolerance.

 

*Known as FOG documents. Fraudulently Obtained Genuine documents

Our Response to the Red Tape Challenge

We recently responded to the Red Tape Challenge on the topic of relaxing the restrictions on the use of the word “University”. Our response is below.

In brief, we believe the existing protection for the word university should be retained i.e. only institutions granted degree-awarding powers can call themselves a university.

Do you think all regulations relating to names should be repealed?

No – there needs to be some restrictions to protect the public from misleading use of certain sensitive words.

Graduate Prospects runs the HEDD system – Higher Education Degree Datacheck (www.hedd.ac.uk ) – the HE sector’s official verification service, which aims to reduce degree fraud and protect the reputation of UK Higher Education. HEDD flags all legitimate UK degree-awarding bodies, including merged and antecedent universities to help employers identify that applicants to employment have attended bona fide institutions.  HEDD also keeps a database of bogus UK universities – there are currently more than 130 on the site – and well over 300 in the UK and we find new ones all the time. These are flagged on the website to expose degree mills. We are working hard to safeguard student and sector interests – reassuring domestic and international students about the authenticity of a university and protecting the substantial financial and time investment of genuine graduates.

Removal of all restrictions on the use of the word university will make it much harder for people to tell what is a genuine degree-awarding body and what is not, and could do damage to UK Higher Education.

International students are a core market for the degree fraudsters – evident in the many bogus websites that are clearly targeting overseas students; listing fake alumni with predominantly non-British names. The fact that half of HEDD’s enquiries come from outside the UK (particularly China, India, US and New Zealand) suggests global awareness of the problem.

There are already hundreds of companies that are happily breaching regulations daily by taking the ‘university’ name without being a degree-awarding body recognised by the Secretary of State. If we reduce or repeal the red tape surrounding use of the word even further, then this will only exacerbate the problem, leaving the way clear for opportunists to play fast and loose with university naming rights to the detriment of UK higher education.

The Further Education sector has been dismayed by the free abuse of the ‘college’ title, to the extent that government’s plans for the FE sector published in 2011 (New Challenges, New Chances) included the sentence: ‘We are also looking at how we can reinforce the reputation of the sector by protecting FE college titles.’

The sector needs to be confident that only bona fide institutions can legitimately call themselves universities; even more importantly, so do the hundreds of thousands of genuine, hard-working students in the UK and internationally who have invested in a UK degree programme.