“Thesis factory” investigation transcript

  It’s time to pay tuition again, and rent is almost due. For Mary Mbugua, who is still in college, this means she has to find a job soon. She tried selling insurance, but the only income in this business was commissions, and she didn’t sell a single one. Next, she found a job as a hotel receptionist, not realizing that the hotel would soon be in financial trouble again.
  After a bit of a struggle, a friend introduced Mbugua to a job called “academic writing,” which involves using the Internet to write assignments for college students in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. Although the pay was good, Mbugua was a bit torn. “It feels like I’m cheating for someone else,” she says, “but what else can I do? I have to make money and survive.”
| The Essay Writing Industry in Developing Countries |

  The essay-writing business has been around for more than a decade, but the Internet has escalated this supply and demand into a multinational industry. Through sites like Ace-MyHomework or EssayShark, writers from developing countries can complete class assignments for American students entirely online. In recent years, sites offering such services have become more sophisticated, offering customer service hotlines and money-back guarantees. The demand to buy essays has also grown, and has evolved into a highly profitable industry. Every year, this trade generates millions of ghostwritten papers. For essay writers, they are thus guaranteed a reliable income and may even be able to make ghostwriting a full time job.
  Ghostwriting services are particularly concentrated in the developing countries of Kenya, India and Ukraine. Here there is a large number of English-speaking students, a guaranteed network infrastructure, and a severe shortage of jobs. In Kenya, a Facebook group that brings together academic paper writers now has more than 50,000 members.
  After receiving a month of training, Mbugua began writing papers for others. She has covered a wide range of topics, from whether space should be colonized to an exploration of euthanasia. Mbugua carries a notebook with her to jot down words and syntax she sees in movies and novels to improve her writing. She was paid $4 per page. On a good day, she earns $320 a month, which is certainly a lot of money for a student in Kenya.
  Mbugua, 28, was in second grade when her mother passed away from diabetes in 2001. She had vowed to study hard and raise her younger siblings in the future. Despite government loans and help from family and friends, Mbugua still has to work and study. She says she loves to study and often dreams of being the student who is studying at a U.S. college and comes to her to write an essay for her. Once, she was given the task of writing admissions essays for students applying to Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business, the school of her dreams.
  Later, Mbugua decided to work for herself and bought the account from a well-known writer on the UvoCorp website. But the site banned such transfers and also blocked her account. Mbugua seems to have reached another crossroads in her life, not knowing where to go next.After graduating from college in 2018, she has submitted a number of resumes and now works as a kitchen supplies salesperson.
  Ghostwriting essays is ultimately wrong. “I’ve always felt guilty about it.” Mbugua says, “People keep saying that education is top-notch in the U.K. and the U.S., but I don’t think the students there are better than us.” After a short pause, she added, “We studied just as much as they did, and we did the work that was required by the school.”
| Contract Cheating in High Schools|

  Roy Norris Ndiritu, 28, is a civil engineering graduate. He loves his major, but after several unsuccessful job searches, he also had to start writing papers for others full time. He said the annual per capita income in Kenya is only $1,700, but professional writers can earn $2,000 a month if they do well. Right now, he’s making enough money to buy a car and a piece of land.
  It’s hard to tell how many people use essay-writing sites (what colleges call “contract cheating”), but a 2005 report on North American students showed that 7 percent of undergraduates admitted to submitting essays written by others, and 3 percent admitted to finding professional ghostwriters, known as “essay mills.” “The situation can be quite dire,” said Tricia Galante, director of the Office of Academic Integrity at the University of California, San Diego, “and without effective measures to control it, universities will turn into diploma mills.”
  Galante is also a board member of the U.S. Center for International Academic Integrity. In her opinion, more than a decade ago, ghostwriting sites just sprouted, generally playing “academic tutoring” “to assist in the revision” of such more obscure name cover; now, thesis writing has long been a loud, completely open industry.
  ”Our expert writers can provide you with high-quality, original papers that will give you more time to enjoy your college experience.” So says the tagline for Academized’s website. Typically, papers that need to be submitted within two weeks cost $15 per page, or up to $42 for expedited papers that are due in three hours. “Whatever academic paper you need, we’re the convenient, reliable and cost-effective choice,” is the promise of EssayShark’s website, “so why not save yourself some time?”
|EssayShark.com – Survey of Essay Factories

  Ghostwriting services usually include subject assignments and papers for open-book exams, which are directly linked to class marks. The main focus of the service is on the international students. The software can detect plagiarism, but it can’t do anything about the custom-made ghostwritten papers.
  In order to investigate the operation of the “essay factory”, the Financial Times reporter pretended to be a student at Cambridge University and purchased ghostwriting services from three essay sites, all of which required a brief essay on the history of education in the UK. Peter Mandler, a professor of the history of education at Cambridge University, agreed to grade the three papers.

Mbugua, a Kenyan university student, makes money from ghostwriting essays.

  The first site is Peachy Essay, which senior officials at the UK’s Higher Education Quality Assurance Agency describe as “one of the largest ‘essay factories’ in existence. The ownership and staffing of Peachy Essay is unknown. The site claims to have been founded by students from University College London, but is registered in Wyoming, USA.
  The reporter contacted an employee of the site who identified himself as “Kevin,” but he refused to answer questions about his identity or the company’s structure. Online information shows that the employee has opened a personal page in several websites under the name of “Kevin McCabe”. In his profile, he describes himself as “a senior academic writer, dissertation/research consultant, university lecturer, blogger and currently lives in London. The profile on the Collage website also mentions that he has a “PhD in business, management and marketing” from Oxford University. Kevin said he had no comment on the information on the page, and told the reporter not to contact him again.

  Kevin’s avatar is a photo of Irish author Dominic Hough. In response, Hough claimed the photo was used without permission and said he would take the necessary steps to have the site removed. “I’m a history teacher in County Clare and have never been involved in any ‘essay mill’ business,” he said.
  During the communication, Peachy Essay told the reporter that the paper would be handed over to a British university academic named “Patrick”. To confirm this claim, the Financial Times reporter sent a link to an embedded tracking script to the website, which, when clicked, showed the location of the operator. Peachy Essay denied that the paper was written by a Kenyan author, but said its own employees were probably on vacation in Kenya at the time.
  The second essay writing site is EduBirdie, which claims to have highly qualified writers around the world. The contact address shown on the site is in Bulgaria, but with the same tracking script, the reporter found that the person who clicked on the link was still located in Kenya. EduBirdie declined to respond to this. In fact, the only response from the site was to delete the order from the user data.
  There is no denying that Kenya has become a gathering point for “essay mills”. There is a legitimate ghostwriting business and a large pool of English-speaking college graduates. One engineering graduate from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology says he has written papers for students from as far away as Europe, the United States and Japan. “I do this business mainly to make money, but I also hope to learn more through ghostwriting.” He said.

  It’s as hard as playing a game of whack-a-mole to crack these “essay mills” one by one.

  The student says he is usually paid KES 250 per page, or £1.64. EduBirdie asked the Financial Times for £199, and Peachy Essay charged £146 – a per-page rate of £28 and £21, respectively.
  Unfortunately, the quality of both bought papers was poor: “British history goes back many years,” Edubirdie’s article began; while the paper offered by Peachy Essay actually ended with a reference to Indian history. “Neither of these essays can be considered passable. The Peachy Essay one was a little closer to the passing mark, because after all, it showed that the author had read at least one book related to the topic.” Mandler said.
  The third essay was purchased from the UK Essays platform and sold for a whopping £244. This platform is registered in the UK and is quite well known. In the platform’s view, they simply provide students with reference answers and have nothing to do with cheating. Daniel Dennehy, the company’s chief operating officer, said: “UK Essays is not some ‘essay factory’. We are simply providing academic references for our customers to help them better understand their essay topics.”
  Dennehy also mentioned that the platform confirms the user’s intention to buy an essay whenever possible and refuses to provide the service once it is discovered that he or she plans to cheat. However, when the journalist purchased the paper, he was not subjected to any scrutiny other than being asked to agree to the platform’s “fair use” rules.
  In Mandler’s opinion, the paper was slightly better than the first two, scoring about 62 points, which is barely low enough to pass. “The text doesn’t cover much history, so it’s clear the author didn’t read much.” He said, “I graded the three essays according to the lenient standards of daily practice, and if a student had submitted an essay of this level in the formal assessment, I would not have let him pass.”
| The long way to go to combat “contract cheating”

  Countries are actively fighting a global network of academic fraud consisting of “essay mills”. UK Higher and Further Education Minister Michel Donelan said he found it hard to accept that a company was set up with the sole aim of facilitating cheating and fraud. In addition, some regulators believe that some essay writing sites have been suspected of committing crimes. According to a Quality Assurance Agency official, “After receiving their papers, some students are blackmailed by the websites.” In 2018, the Coventry University Students’ Union revealed that a student was blackmailed by a “dissertation mill” for up to £5,000. They said they would expose their cheating if they did not pay the appropriate fee.
  In a list provided by British and Australian officials, there are more than 2,000 sites suspected of “contract cheating. Seventeen U.S. states and the governments of Australia, South Africa and Ireland have begun to take action. The UK is about to introduce a law banning ghostwriting companies from operating and advertising in the country. However, to break down these “essay mills” one by one, it’s as hard as playing a game of whack-a-mole.