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.

Great Scott!

Some men born to the name Scott are great heroes. Think Scott of the Antarctic, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott, even Barry Scott of Cillit Bang fame. Some however, are not so worthy of the name.

Let me introduce to you, David Scott from Stockton-on-Tees

On the face of it he was the perfect candidate for the job of managing director at Mech-Tool, an engineering company in Darlington in the North East of England that specialised in heat and blast protection in the oil and gas sector. He had three degrees from Imperial College London, Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Universities, including a First Class Honours in Petroleum Engineering. He had also penned the snappily titled “Non-parametric Regression For Analysis Of Complex Surveys And Geographic Visualisation”, a renowned academic paper within the sector.

Upon being hired his first task was to manage two multi-million pound contracts in Kazakhstan and in return he would receive a £10,000 company car allowance, bonuses, a resettlement package, all on top of a £120,000 salary.

Fair recompense for a challenging high-level job.

Regular readers of the blog will know what happens next. It turns out that a large proportion of what David Scott had claimed was not true. He had actually started life in the Army, where he was introduced to engineering before leaving to work in geo-structural engineering in Libya.

After returning to the UK, and going through an expensive divorce, he fraudulently applied for the role at Mech-Tool. His Bachelors and two Masters were complete fictions, as was his claim to have held an executive position beforehand. As for the ‘renowned academic paper’, this was actually written by his American namesake, Dr David W Scott!

The result for Mech-Tool was near disastrous. Three months after drawing up a strategy plan that, in the words of the judge at his trial, showed Scott was “quite clearly not up to the job”, his colleagues realised as such and after some investigations, discovered the truth. Luckily, the contracts were saved, although payments were delayed however.

At Scott’s trail the judge added: “This was not just claiming an extra GCSE or A level, this was fraud at the highest end of CV falsehood.” This was high culpability deliberate fraud and he sentenced Scott to 12 months in jail.

A company statement from Mech-Tool stated the following: “The business demands the highest standards from its staff and, as such, we have very strict and robust governance and HR processes.”

Not so robust however, to properly check Scott’s degrees.

For just a few pounds and in just a few minutes on Hedd they could have saved themselves a large deal of stress and negative PR, not to mention the millions of pounds that were at stake. Credential fraud will only end when all employers make proper checks on job applicants.

Luckily Mech-Tool have bounced back and predict that the affair “will have no effect on the business as it looks forward to a strong 2018.”

 

By Edward Prichard