As every student knows, essay writing is hard work. You must attend lectures and read books in order to have something to write about. You need to come up with relevant and interesting ideas. You have to marshal your thoughts into a logical order, construct an argument and reach an informed conclusion. The Telegraph reports.
It seems that increasing numbers of students have decided that all this effort is just not worth it. Cheating at top British universities is reported to have risen by a third in the past three years. The number of academic misconduct cases dealt with by the 24 Russell Group universities – including Oxford and Cambridge – rose from 2,640 to 3,721, between 2014 and 2017. Some of this increase is no doubt down to better detection but, nevertheless, cheating seems to have become an intractable part of the higher education landscape.
Websites offering essays on demand are easily found; perhaps advertised on or around campus, and promoted on social media sites. Personalised paid-for essays are harder to detect than work that has simply been copied from a textbook or another student. Some students no doubt calculate the risks and decide that buying an essay is worth it: not only are they unlikely to be caught but even if they do the consequences are not always severe.
For students who have come to see themselves as paying for a degree certificate, securing the investment by purchasing a decent essay makes perfect sense. Universities reinforce this instrumental approach to academic work. Learning outcomes – statements specifying what students should know – are spelled out to students before they even embark upon a module. This discourages not just intellectual risk taking but also curiosity. If you know in advance what you will learn – why go to the effort of learning it? Some courses don’t just specify learning outcomes but also how to meet them. The focus for all concerned becomes how to meet requirements in the most effective and efficient means possible.
To stop contract cheating universities do not need more anti-cheating mechanisms in place. Instead, they need to offer students a far clearer and more inspiring idea of what higher education is for. Talk of investment, outcomes and the graduate premium needs to be replaced by a focus on what it means to be a student: the pleasures and struggles involved in mastering a subject, the excitement of unearthing new knowledge and the rewards from sustained intellectual effort. Students need to be told that money might buy you a degree certificate but learning only comes with effort.
Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin
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