But How Do You Actually Ban Essay Mill Companies?


Various of the universities are insisting that essay mills should be banned. These are the companies which take money to produce essays to specification. 750 words on why Milton’s just a great guy by 4 pm please, here’s $100 in exchange. Quite obviously these are then used by students as their coursework and they then get their degrees by buying them. This perhaps isn’t how we’d like to have our bridges designed, by people who just bought the piece of paper allowing them to design bridges.

Having actually done this work – I did one piece once for one of the companies, purely in the interests of research, ahem – it’s very difficult indeed to see how any legal ban upon them can be crafted. For what do you make illegal? Writing essays for money? That’s a goodly chunk of the freelance writing market gone. How do you think newspapers an dmagazines get content? By offering people to write essays for money, obviously enough.

More than 40 university chiefs are reported to have written to the education secretary calling for a ban on so-called “essay mills”.

The vice-chancellors have called for companies who offer essay-writing services to be made illegal amid fears they are undermining the integrity of degree courses.

Yes, but, what is it that is to be banned, exactly?

However, in the UK it is not illegal to offer a commercial essay-writing service.

Well, yes, but again, exactly what is it that you’re going to make illegal? Writing stuff for money?

In March, the Advertising Standards Agency banned adverts for an essay writing company by failing to make it clear that the papers were not meant to be submitted by students as their own work.

So, think through what you can make illegal. You can certainly prosecute students for submitting work that is not their own. As universities do in a civil manner by chucking out those who do so particularly egregiously. You can make illegal advertising that I’ll write you an essay which you can submit as part of your course work, that’s not difficult. Advertising that you’ll aid in committing that civil violation, that’s easy enough to make verboten. But, well, what else?

We can’t make writing to order illegal for that’s that usual practice in the newspaper industry. I’d like 750 words by 4 pm on Jezza Corbyn’s latest nonsense is something near every editor has been known to say. Along with the promise of money upon publication too. They might not have been about Jezza but I did two such pieces today.

We can’t make illegal guidelines for essays – that’s private tutoring out of the window. We can’t make illegal the writing of essays upon Jane Austen’s novels, that’s censorship. There’s no single determining factor which covers the activity which we can thus make illegal. Only the use to which the essays are put and that’s down to the student who ordered, not the people who wrote the piece.

Sure, call for essay mills to be banned. But what exactly is it that you’re making illegal? That doesn’t trample upon other perfectly legal – and to the extent that any freelance writing is, desirable – activities?