Dr Lancaster v UK Essay

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One of the most influential experts in the fight against essay writing services has tweeted that he has taken up a new position at the University of Coventry. Dr Thomas Lancaster has worked out of Birmingham University for over 12 years and has been one of the country’s most vocal opponents of academic dishonesty and the companies that promote it.

Recently Dr Lancaster appeared for the BBC on an episode of BBC Fake Britain focussing on the subject of exam cheats in the UK. It is this kind of publicity that has help to propel Dr Lancaster and his campaign against academic dishonesty into the hearts and minds of the British public. One company in particular caught the attention of Dr Lancaster, Nottingham based UK Essay who he carried out an undercover investigation into. Although the essay writing company operated within the confines of current UK Law, Dr Lancaster made an impassioned argument that the type of service they offered was promoting wholesale cheating in our education system.

I for one am hoping that Dr Lancaster will continue his fantastic work in fighting the essay writing industry now that he is working at Coventry and wish him all the best in his new position.

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Oxbridge Essays – Update December 2014

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It’s been a while since I posted so I wanted to catch up on an earlier piece I wrote about the UK based writing service; Oxbridge Essays. Following an in-depth investigation by The Times (ref: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/education/article4120181.ece) the company was discovered to have been providing essay writing services to university students with the express intention of the work being handed in as their own.

oxford-universitySome six months have now passed since the investigation and yet it appears that absolutely nothing has changed in the way that Oxbridge Essays are marketing their services. On the homepage of their website there are still bold claims that they can guarantee a student’s grade and a quick call to their sales team confirmed my suspicions that they are still willing to sell work on the understanding that it is to be handed in as the student’s own work.

Since the investigation, Ofqual, the government body responsible for the quality of academic qualification has produced a report on the essay industry exposing a number of shortcomings of the companies involved in providing essays for cash. One of the biggest criticisms of the Ofqual report (ref: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ofqual) was that companies were providing work of a much lower grade than that advertised and that students were not getting value for their money. It seems to me that whole direction of this report was wrong and amounted to the equivalent of criticising car thieves for no being efficient enough at illegally entering vehicles. The root of the problem is not the quality of work that companies like Oxbridge Essays are producing but rather the fact that they are producing the work at all.

In November 2014 the essay writing scandal hit Australia with a Chinese business owner by the name of Yingying Dou being ousted by the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) as having provided over $160,000 worth of essays to students at a well known Sydney university through her company, MyMaster (ref: http://www.theage.com.au/national/education/universities-investigate-mymaster-cheating-20141118-11p33f.html. Again, although there was much criticism of the business that Dou was heading up there is seemingly little that can be done under Australian law to regulate the essay writing industry. Much of the press commentary on the Australian news mirrored comments from the UK which laid much of the blame on universities and their focus on gaining more and more foreign students irrespective of the student’s suitability for the degree course they were studying. While this focus on cash remains it is unlikely that any real action will be seen to eradicate the education system of companies such as Oxbridge Essays and MyMaster since they are helping universities to gain more international students and aiding these students in achieving higher grades.

 

Bank Holiday Monday Blues

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August Bank Holiday Monday always fills me with a sense of sadness. Despite being a holiday for those who are in employment, for those in education it it more likely to signify the nearing of the end of the Summer holidays.

brighton-rockToday this sadness was magnified for me with the passing of Lord Richard Attenborough, director of many awe inspiring movies such as Gandhi and Cry Freedom. So to celebrate his life I have decided to spend my Bank Holiday watching Brighton Rock for what must be the 100th time.

 

Has Gove Finally Gone Too Far?

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German GoveRecent months have seen Michael Gove (Minister for Education) announce that schools should no longer be using “foreign” literature in the classroom. That Vladimir Putin would be delighted if Scotland were to get independence and now, to the astonishment of the British people he has quite possible taken a step of no return. In  today’s news Gove has announced that English students should be taught to empathize and understand the feelings of the German people during WWII.

At a time when the British national identity is under crisis this latest comment has caused uproar among both students and older generations alike, especially considering Gove’s own comments regarding Germany’s part in the war back in January of this year: http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/erster-weltkrieg-und-europa-wie-in-england-mit-1914-politik-gemacht-wird/9289964.html

Looking at events over the last few months it would certainly appear that Gove has come under huge pressure to correct the offense he has caused to the German people regarding their part in WWII. The question is whether this latest comment is a cynical attempt to redeem himself for his earlier mis-judgement or just a way to avoid making an outright apology? Whichever way it will be the students who lose out yet again if he gets his way.

One petition on 38degrees.org.uk has already gained 126,000 out of 200,000 signatures to have Gove removed from his position as Education Minister, if you feel the need to add your signature to the list the visit: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/remove-michael-gove-from-office

 

Birmingham Trojan Horse Schools Respond to Special Measures

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Birmingham Schools Trojan HorseOfsted watchdogs have now been called into 21 schools after claims that hardline Islamic extremists had plotted to take over the running of the schools. However, the chairman of Park View Educational Trust has now spoken out about the claims saying that the trust “wholeheartedly disputes” the claims made by Ofsted and that “The speed and the ferocity with which the school had been condemned was truly shocking”.

The 21 reports are due to be published by Ofsted at 13:30 today (Monday 9th June 2014) and it is expected that the reports will show that no substantive evidence has been found to support the theory that the 21 schools had somehow been subverted by Islamic extremists. Davis Hughes went on to say “The Ofsted reports found absolutely no evidence of this because this is categorically not what is happening at our schools”.

Much criticism has been aimed at the Government for it’s handling of these claims and it’s decision for Peter Clarke, ex head of Counter Terrorism at Scotland Yard, to head-up the investigation was met with a wave of controversy.  The DfE has said that Michael Gove, education minister, will brief the Commons today on “substantial developments” with the investigation as Ofsted’s findings are announced.

You will be able to read full details about Ofsted’s findings here once the briefing has taken place > http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/news

 

 

 

Essay Writing Companies – The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

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With over 20,000 complaints raised by students to their universities there has been a lot of discussion of whether the university system in the UK provides good value for money. The majority of complaints stem from students complaining about their grades but there are also a large number of complaints regarding course structure and contents. Anglia Ruskin university received the largest number of complaints with a group of law students complaining that their course had been moved to Cambridge university some 45 miles away.

Students complaining about tuition feesOne UK essay writing company has joined in the argument saying that the number of students now seeking additional help with their studies has rocketed since the introduction of student tuition fees and with the prospect of tuition fees being raised further the company argues that students are getting less and less for their money and are seeking to protect their investments by seeking the help they need form the private sector. This has lead to a renewed scrutiny of the essay writing sector and the impact they have on the quality of educational delivery in the UK.

Unlike the in the US there are no laws preventing UK companies from offering essay, assignment or dissertation writing services. Over the last year the number of companies offering these services have dramatically increased and this has lead to questions regarding the trading practices of these companies. We have taken an in-depth look in to the companies offering academic writing services and have hound some interesting and yet worrying information. Let’s start with the Good:

The Good – Essay Writing Companies

Looking at the companies offering essay writing services in Google we can see a number of established, UK based companies offering writing services. These companies typically have detailed information regarding plagiarism and state clearly that their work cannot be submitted by students as their own work. Prices for these “good companies” tend to be relatively high, reaching into the hundreds and in the case of dissertations even thousands of pounds. Despite the long trading history of some of these companies we could only find two (2) essay writing companies that had genuine UK landlines and operated from dedicated UK offices.

Some of the determining factors of a “good company”were found to be:

  • Guarantees and quality procedures in place to ensure that work supplied is original, not plagiarised and is the standard that the student expects.
  • The company is a registered UK company, registered for VAT and fully compliant with Data Protection
  • Any payment methods are served on a secure connection and processed by a major UK bank
  • The company has a UK landline telephone number (remembering that landlines can be rented and redirected to mobiles or outside the UK) and the operators speak clear English and are not taking calls via a foreign call centre
  • The company is know through word of mouth, reliance on web based reviews and comments were not found to be reliable and in many cases had found to be manipulated
  • The company were able to provide evidence that the work being carried out was by qualified academics

One immediate indication of a “good company” is the presence of the basic legal requirements of a website run by a UK company or organisation. The presence of a privacy policy, cookie policy, terms and conditions, registered address, company registration number, VAT registration number, data protection number…… Any genuine UK company will have these as a matter of course.

What is worrying is that these “good companies” were difficult to find in web based search engines unless the user knew the exact name of the company they were looking for. This leads us onto the bad:

The Bad – Essay Writing Companies?

In start contrast to the good companies a number of academic writing services are using tricks to make their websites look authentic. The most common trick that these “bad companies” use is to disguise their location, often attempting to pass off as genuine UK companies when they are in-fact based in far flung locations such as Nigeria or the US. Some of the ways that these companies manage to pass off as being UK based are:

  • Using non-geographic phone numbers or leasing land lines in the UK that redirect to their foreign call centre or cellphone – the giveaway is often in the ring-tone when dialing these numbers
  • Hosting websites on .co.uk domain names, often registered to fictitious individuals or companies in the UK.
  • Renting virtual office space in the UK, the address often gives this away and a quick search of the address on the web will often show results for low cost virtual office space.
  • Displaying false credit card logos, seals and stamps. Going through to place an order will often give away the true source of where the company processes it’s financial transactions.
  • No visible company information in the site or companies that when checked on Companies House are either dormant or have never submitted accounts

The difference in work between a “bad company” and a “good company” is vast. While a “good company” will produce unique work, written by a professional and checked for plagiarism and quality a “bad company” will often simply plagiarise material from the web and pass it off as something they have written. Another ploy used by “bad companies” is to resell the same piece of work to multiple students. Companies with just a handful of writers will often use the same writers to produce work in fields of study that they are not qualified and this inevitably leads to unacceptably poor levels of work with no real understanding of the subject being written about.

You may think that the “bad companies” show the worse side of this industry but because of the way that many of us search the web and the fact that more and more business is done online there is now a completely new type of essay writing company – the ugly!:

The Ugly – Not an Essay Writing Company

essay writing phishing scamsWhile a bad company offers a poor quality of service often under false pretenses a truly “ugly company” has no intention of delivering work at all. Many of us will be familiar with Phishing scams with banks, Paypal, telephone companies and others. Now we are seeing a huge increase in the amount of Phishing sites attempting to exploit the essay writing company. Part of the reason for their success is that, a student who feels they are paying for a service that may be considered by some to be cheating, are much less likely to complain to their bank if they do not receive the work they were expecting after making payment. These “ugly companies” exploit this shame that some students feel for not being able to live up to the academic brilliance of their peers.

We have found 2 different types of what we call “ugly companies” purportedly offering essay writing services:

  • Websites set up with the specific intention of gaining personal information about you; telephone numbers, email addresses, credit card details…
  • Companies who accept payment for services that they have no intention of delivering, often facilitated by foreign card processing services or by the user entering their credit card details into a form on the website itself

While a search on Google or Bing for a bank or store will likely show genuine results on the first page a search in the essay writing industry is likely to return phishing sites and scams on the first page. Why is this? Back in 2007 Google took a stand against essay writing companies as a result of the State of California passing a law preventing any company advertising “academic dishonesty”. In response to this law Google and others applied a blanket rule to all companies who they deemed to be advertising academic writing services. This rule still applies today but only to those companies originally penalised by the rule. This means that long-standing, established companies are less likely to show up in results than new companies who may have only been trading for a number of days.

Unfortunately it is unlikely that this situation is going to change with the attitude of search engines and universities being that students seeking help from essay writing companies somehow deserve to be scammed

The future of the essay writing industry

Although it is unclear how the essay writing industry will fare in the future it is clear that as tuition fees continue to increase, and the level of support offered by colleges and universities continues to decrease, students will continue to look to essay writing companies for help and support with their studies. With so many students now falling victim to the many scams targeting them maybe it’s time for universities to listen to the likes of Tony Eynon (CEO of a company specialising in UK Essay Writing – www.ukessays.com) who has been calling for universities to start working with the essay writing industry for a number of years (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/7552675/Students-can-buy-essays-worth-a-21.html).

UK University League Tables for 2015 announced today

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The Guardian have today announced the 2015 league tables for UK Universities. While there is little surprise with the top 2 universities, Cambridge and Oxford respectively there are some surprise in top 10. Bath University, previously position 7 has made the biggest leap, jumping to position 4 despite having one of the highest ratios of students to staff ratio for any university in the top 10. Lancaster University is a new entry to the top 10 taking the number 10 position  and UCL has fallen out of the top 10 from the previous number 5 position and now reside at position 11.

The top 25 universities in 2015 are as follows:

Image of Cambridge University1. Cambridge
2. Oxford
3. St Andrews
4. Bath
5. Imperial College (London)
6. Surrey
7. London School of Economics
8. Durham
9. Warwick
10. Lancaster
11. UCL
12. Exeter
13. Heriot Watt
14. UEA
15. Loughborough
16. York
17. Birmingham
18. Edinburgh
19. Southampton
20. Kent
21. Leicester
22. Aston
23. Nottingham
24. SOAS
25. Glasgow

To see the full list of universities along with details of how the positions are determined visit http://www.theguardian.com/education/ng-interactive/2014/jun/02/university-league-tables-2015-the-complete-list

Special Educational Needs Code of Practice changes 2014

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September 2014 will see the biggest changes to support for children with Special Education Needs since 2001. These new changes are still in draft form and will see families being given greater involvement in their child’s education although opponents of the new code suggest that it could result in families being far less involved.

Some studies have shown that the additional involvement for families in their child’s education can be extremely stressful and may lead to them feeling excluded by process due to the overwhelming amount of information and paperwork generated by the education system. Recent research shows that involving parents more in their child’s education leads to higher levels of achievement and an overall improvement in learning. These two opposing views of parental involvement raise a number of issues going forward with the new Special Education Needs Code of Practice and we can expect a number of changes to the draft code before it’s implementation later in the year.

One major change to the existing code is for schools to be responsible for keeping their own records on students with special educational needs but again this has caused worries that it may lead to regional variances in educational delivery.

Many students with special education needs who go on to university find that the support they need is simply not there and this has led to students seeking help from academic writing companies and essay mills. One prominent UK based essay writing company was quoted by the Telegraph back in 2009 as saying that a high percentage of their clients had special educational needs and were becoming disenfranchised with the Higher Education system.

More information is available on the SEN Code on the Gov.UK website here >

Ofsted – Supporting Young People in #Education and Training

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youthsOfsted and the AoC (Association of Colleges) have today published a report on supporting young people to participate in education and training. The report is based on observations and findings from a wide range of colleges in the London area and aims to identify the factors that prevent students from engaging with the education system.

A major part of the project was looking at punctuality and attendance and methods of delivering education that could make an impact on these. By identifying the successful work by colleges in the city to reduce the amount of young people falling into the NEET category (Not in Education Employment or Training) the report aims to provide a discussion point for other colleges and establishments on how to support young people back into education.

Is hoped that the findings of the report can help areas with a high proportion of young people falling into the NEET category or “Cohort”. The North East currently has the highest proportion of NEET with over 8% of young people falling into this category. More surprisingly however is the London borough of Croydon which has a staggering 45% of young people being NEET despite Greater London having the lowest overall NEET figures in the UK

You can read the full Ofsted report here: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/resources/supporting-young-people-participate-education-and-training