Baring the Truth: Education Commoditization and the Rise of Essay Writing Services


The call to ban essay writing services has been a long and winding road for many governments and academic institutions. For the last decade, universities in various countries like the UK, have urged the government to outlaw essay writing services that allow students to hire freelance writers and pay for academic papers to help boost their grades.

Meanwhile, some school ministers and bosses called for the government to bear down on the increasingly growing problem of contract cheating, by targeting essay writing services instead of those who pay for their services.

Just last year, education secretary, Damian Hinds, urged college students to come forward and act as "whistleblowers" if they suspect their peers of committing contract cheating, as part of the UK government's crackdown against essay writing services. Students were made to sign "honor codes" as a pledge not to cheat. Those who are found guilty will face severe consequences, with the heaviest sanction being expulsion.

Recently, the UK's Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, has written to online payment portal, PayPal, asking them to ban processing payments related to contract cheating, specifically the buying and selling of custom-written essays and academic papers.

Why Do Essay Writing Services Continue to Exist?

This ongoing effort to eradicate essay writing companies has been going on for years. Fast-forward to the present and the only substantial progress the government and universities have made, is to suspend a number of students who were found guilty of hiring essay writing services. And unlike the UK, American universities' response to banning essay writing services has been silence.

So here's the truth: Countries like the UK and the US have no known national ban against owning, running, and using essay writing services. The government itself has no law that forbids submitting bespoke school papers. Even among colleges and school administrators, none have publicly requested a ban against using custom academic writing services.

US schools could join the UK's fervent effort to outlaw this type of service, but they have not. And PayPal has not responded to the UK's request, either. After all, it would be a shame to limit the use of essay writing services in the UK alone, but leave the doors open in the US simply because they have not requested that these services be shut down.

Australia’s Ban on Essay Mills

As of 2020, Australian lawmakers have made it illegal to advertise or do business with certain writing services, such as essay mills, and consider them as a medium for contract cheating. The law was passed and went into effect in early September last year, carrying stiff sanctions for anyone who is caught using essay mills - up to 2 years jailtime and a fine of up to $100,000. Various colleges and universities in Australia have also imposed penalties, with the heaviest being expulsion.

Because of this, majority of essay mills, including legitimate essay writing services, have officially ended their operations in Australia.

The reason is glaringly obvious. Essay writing companies argue that the fact students continue to seek out their services shows the lack of supervision they are given, and that the education system itself is to blame.

The Value of Education

Before globalization, education was not accessible to the masses. In fact, it was a matter of class privilege and was denied to certain racial sectors. It came at the whims of rulers, leaders, and affluent families.

Education required money and influence. In the past decades, life was much harder for those of modest means. And when everything was made and distributed for and by whites, living a better life was practically impossible for non-whites.

But things have changed drastically over the years. Today, universal access to education has given all people equal opportunity in education, regardless of their social class, race, and gender. Yet some people believe that this practice in higher education, unlike strict meritocracy, has lowered academic standards over the years.

There's a lot of turbulence going around about whether or not education has lost its value. An education system that was great a decade ago may not be working as well for today's young generation. Schools and the government don't rapidly change their system as fast as the world does. And now, markets have started to rule over schools and universities, capitalism and financial gain prevail over higher social good, and there's no more place for values and ethics.

In such a climate, the rise of essay writing services can be seen as a dark underside of a way of thinking that presents itself to be legitimate today: that students are consumers, education is nothing more than a transaction, and freedom translates to the money one can spend to buy an academic paper or a diploma.

Educational Ethics: Essay Writing Services as the Lesser Evil

Let's face it: ethics and essay writing services aren't exactly the best of friends. However, it's hard not to sympathize with students who continue to use essay writing services, despite all the warnings the government and universities have enforced.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, the world was already facing another kind of pandemic of an economic nature: global recession.

Today, students are faced with an extraordinarily competitive labor market. In a world where earning a degree and a having a diploma defines one's success, it's all the more important for recent graduates to make that effort to stand out from the crowd.

Yet recent graduates have the highest unemployment rate in decades. Not only do they have to scrape through the recession, they are also a target of joblessness, cuts, and reforms. This is beside the fact that they have to deal with massive student loan debts.

When faced by a grim recession and crippling debts, students and fresh graduates can only hope to embark on a career that makes good and - if possible - quick money. This couldn't be more true for those who are desperate to get into the labor market where a diploma and outstanding academic record have become a prerequisite for employment.

So it doesn't come as a surprise that many students turn to the best essay writing services for academic help. After all, why not use it to your advantage when it's a) perfectly safe and legal; and b) it aims to help improve your grades and academic performance?

The dilemma raised by essay writing services barely even scratches the surface. In fact, a more fundamental question begs to be answered: What does this tell us of the changing attitude to education?

While many schools and universities all over the world are keen on denouncing the supposed "unethical" nature of these writing service companies, the same institutions are charging students the maximum fees, following the new higher education funding system. Instead of listening to the sentiments of struggling students and teachers, these institutions have chosen to be compliant with the new system's plans to "overhaul" education. But this action destroys the very essence of "education serving the public good". And quite honestly, the ‘unethical' nature of essay writing services pales in comparison to this.

Unfortunately, this isn't just limited to education. This is also a common issue in the health sector, where doctors are more interested in treating patients solely for monetary gain.

Sadly, we don't see any chance to resolve all this in the near future, as long as the current capitalistic system prevails. Unless governing bodies choose to change their view of education, the truth will remain: that education is nothing more than just a commodity in the market, irrelevant to any higher public good.

How Essay Services Do Their Part?

Legitimate essay writing services have a simple rule: All the papers ordered by customers should be used solely as a learning material and are not to be submitted as their own.

If they don't understand these terms, then the company has the right to turn them away.

However, the same companies admit that there's little they can do if a student decides to use their ordered paper against their advice. Because of these issues, some essay writing companies have called on to "regulate" the industry. In fact, many of them are willing to coordinate with the government and schools in addressing their concerns.

At the end of the day, it's all about Honor Code, academic integrity and ensuring that students learn. So the real challenge here, is to change student behavior.

The idea of governments and schools working closely with these essay writing services may just be the solution to the problem. By making students declare they have used a writing service, schools will be allowed to use plagiarism detection software to check their papers and compare them with their purchased model paper. In this case, there is no such thing as ‘contract cheating'.

David Anderson is the founder of IHateWritingEssays. He hates the idea of companies baiting unsuspecting individuals with fraudulent services. Starting from school, he too, struggled to find a helping hand when it comes to writing assignments. Over time, he focused on publishing comprehensive reviews and helping students find reliable essay services. Thus, the review site came to be – serving as the "voice and the iron fist" of an industry expert.