Universities are set to clamp down on essay cheats with the launch of new plagiarism software which will record and monitor a student’s writing style.
Amid growing concern over “contract cheating”, Turnitin, the largest provider of monitoring software to British universities, will launch a new programme designed to catch out students who pay for professionally written essays.
The new software, named Authorship Investigation, will monitor and learn the writing styles of individual students and flag up content which shows considerable divergence from their previous work.
What is contract cheating?
Contract cheating is when a student uses a third party to produce original academic work for them, usually involving fees running into hundreds of pounds.
Students are able to circumvent their university’s plagiarism systems, which can only detect where students have lifted from already published texts or those scanned through the Turnitin system.
There are hundreds of companies in the UK and abroad offering “bespoke essay and dissertation writing services” under the premise that students do not try to submit the product as their own original work.
However, in reality thousands of students are believed to be doing exactly that.
The professional essay writing industry, known commonly as “essay mills” is now thought to be worth over £100m.
In the UK, two of the biggest essay mills report that they are providing essays to more than 20,000 students a year.
It comes more than a year after The Daily Telegraph revealed that up to 20,000 students are purchasing essays from online writing services, known as ‘essay mills’, with some paying up to £6,500 for bespoke dissertations and PhD theses.
Many of the companies, which claim to serve thousands of students annually, employ dozens of freelance writers and academics, who receive a commission for each essay they write.
MPs and peers say the industry is allowing students to “pay their way” to a top degree, and have called on the Government and the sector to crackdown on the practice.
Announcing the new software, Turnitin’s CEO, Chris Caren said: “Taking on emerging threats to academic integrity like contract cheating is a natural extension of our mission. As forms of academic misconduct evolve, so must Turnitin’s offerings.
“We believe in the value of higher education, and we see our forthcoming solution as playing an essential role in protecting the degrees institutions confer.”
While the vast majority of British universities already use Turnitin or similar providers, the current system is only able to detect essays which plagiarise published work.
Using machine learning algorithms, the new software will identify an individual student’s unique writing style.
If it encounters papers significantly different from previous submissions, it will notify an institution to potential instances of foul play.