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A third essay service says that a 1,500-word piece written to a 2:2 standard and turned around in just a week will cost £167.
But under the current system, essay mills are legal and universities are the only gatekeepers against a growing tide of plagiarised work.
There are several lines of defence against the cheats.
“That was part of the challenge, but I love words and terminology, so I enjoyed it.” The cost of buying an essay varies enormously and depends on factors such as the number of words and the complexity of the subject.
Customers can also specify the quality of the writing – a 2:2 standard essay, for example, is cheaper than a 2:1.
“It is identifying people who are in need and struggling,” he says.
“It appears to be offering them a service, but it is not helping them.” The exact number of students who cheat by purchasing written academic work is difficult to ascertain.“You will not get caught,” he says bluntly, adding that his company’s essays are “ready to submit”.The claim that essay mills have a roster of experts in every imaginable field – the websites make frequent references to Ph D students – is contradicted by Mr Hickford’s experiences.“This [the fact the essay was written by a third party] is impossible to track,” says the administrator at one service, who identifies himself as Josh.If a student is worried that the style of their purchased essay will be too dissimilar to their own, he says, they can attach samples of their work and the agency’s authors will use it as a style guide.“I never found out how anyone I helped did – they could all have failed for all I know,” he says. I could never attach a face to the work I was doing.” He parted ways with the agency at the end of last year and now works as a freelance journalist and in the charity sector.“I gradually became aware that it was all a bit dodgy, even though it wasn’t illegal,” he says.The use of “essay mills”, as these agencies are known, is on the rise according to reports, and in the UK – where they are perfectly legal – universities want the government to intervene.In September, more than 40 university chiefs wrote to the Education Secretary calling for a ban on essay mills amid fears that they are compromising the integrity of degree courses.One company contacted by tells us – without even asking what the subject will be – that our essay would cost precisely £53.94 for a two-week turnaround.Another agency is a little more thorough, questioning us about the subject and how “well” we want the essay to be written.