Contract cheating and the use of essay mills are global problems. A 2018 study by Swansea University of students internationally, found the number of students outside the UK who admitted to paying for assignments since 2014 equates to one in seven.
It is almost impossible to quantify how widespread the use of essay mills is, as the bespoke nature of these “paid for” assignments can make it difficult for providers to detect it is not the student’s own work. Students who engage in contract cheating are also less likely to volunteer to participate in surveys about cheating. In 2016, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education found there are approximately 17,000 instances of academic offences per year in the UK, although it should be noted that this figure includes all types of academic offences, not exclusively contract cheating.
In launching the Education Technology Strategy in April 2019, the government made a commitment to “Identify how anti-cheating software can be developed and improved to help tackle the problem of essay mills”. A new generation of plagiarism detection software, focused on authorship investigation, is being introduced in the UK, which will provide universities with data-backed insight into whether students are doing their own work.