In an effort to tackle university cheats, the Education Secretary Damian Hinds is calling on PayPal to take action by blocking essay writing firms, which promise students plagiarism free essays in exchange for cash.
Describing such companies as unethical, Hinds said it was shameful for them to “profit from this dishonest business,” which he claims exploits young people. He added that PayPal should act, saying their “corporate reputation” should matter to them.
As well as forcing PayPal to take action, Hinds suggested the introduction of US-style “honour codes” – where students pledge not to cheat – to UK universities, which could help reduce cheating.
University leaders have repeatedly voiced concerns over the risk posed by online essay writing firms, which they also say tempt students to cheat.
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Education watchdog, the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), claimed these companies are often misleading as they portray themselves as offering legitimate help to students.
The agency has warned that often they can be “unscrupulous services that damage reputations and lives.”
Douglas Blackstock, head of the QAA, said: “Companies that try to entice students to buy so-called plagiarism-free essays pose a real threat to the academic integrity of our higher education.”
“These unscrupulous operators, increasingly and falsely marketing themselves as providing legitimate study aids, must be stopped in their tracks.”
Blackstock noted there were instances where these firms tried to financially blackmail students under threat of exposing their past cheating.
In November, the QAA contacted PayPal urging the firm to “close down the payment facilities for the essay-writing companies that encourage students to cheat.”
A spokesman for PayPal said: “We carefully review accounts that are flagged to us for possible violations of our policies, as well as UK laws and regulations.
“An internal review is already underway looking at the implications of essay writing services. We would be happy to talk to the Department of Education about their concerns.”
According to Hinds, the QAA had identified 17,000 academic offences in 2016 – but said it was impossible to know how many cases had passed under the radar.
“Sadly there have always been some people who opt for the easy way and the internet has seen a black market in essay writing services spring up,” he said.
“I am determined to beat the cheats who threaten the integrity of our system and am calling on online giants, such as PayPal, to block payments or end the advertisement of these services – it is their moral duty to do so,” he continued.
Sir Anthony Seldon, vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, said: “Cheating should be tackled and the problem should not be allowed to fester any longer.
“Legislation is needed to outlaw this abominable practice, but this is a valuable first step.”