New cheating laws have come into effect in Ireland last week. There has been a legal crackdown on essay writing services provided by a growing number of these “essay mills”. It has been made an offence to advertise or provide such services. New Zealand and Australia have already implemented this ban and have had legislation in place for it since 2011.

The state agency Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) has warned that essay mills pose a serious threat to the integrity of higher education. Essay mills facilitate academic cheating by supplying bespoke written essays and dissertations to students that are written by other students and academics. The students who pay for these essays then submit them as their own work. The providers claim that these essays are plagiarism-free on that basis that they are ‘original pieces of work’. It can be impossible to establish that they are not the work of the student. 

It is currently estimated that there are 5 to 6 major providers of this service in the Irish market and many more smaller providers as well.

One recent UK report revealed that one in seven graduates (14%) has admitted to paying someone else to undertake their assignment. For Australia that number is 6-10% of their student population. International research shows there has been a sharp rise in the use of these services. According to the figures compiled by The Irish Times, there have been over 1000 cases of student plagiarism in Ireland since 2010.

Ireland alongside New Zealand and Australia has been one of the few countries to introduce legislation to tackle this problem. The QQI will launch a communications campaign that will inform the providers, learners, advertisers and publishers of the new legislation. 

The QQI has also established the National Academic Integrity Network, which comprises representatives of all public and private-third level colleges as well as student representatives. Its purpose is to create a collaborative approach to tackling the issue. The agency wants to agree upon common definitions of academic cheating and identify a good method to take action against it. They want to develop good practice for the reporting and prosecution of the instances of cheating. 

The network had its first meeting on November 14th , which was addressed by Professor Micheal Draper, of Swansea University and Professor Cath Ellis, of the University of New South Wales. Both professors have extensive experience in the area of contract cheating and essay mills.