The EduBirdie website allows students to order and pay for essays written by ‘professionals’ rather than completing the work themselves.
“It’s clearly wrong because it is enabling and normalising cheating potentially on an industrial scale”
Known as contract cheating, essay writing services are not illegal, but if students are discovered submitting work they have paid for someone else to do the penalties can be as severe as expulsion.
A disclaimer on the EduBirdie website suggests that the work it provides should only be used as a sample or a reference.
However it also claims the essays are “100% plagiarism free” meaning should a student submit it as their own work, it is less likely to be detected by anti-cheating software.
The website points out that the issue of plagiarism is one that is “especially topical for international students”, and that EduBirdie services could help students adapting to studying in English.
The adverts for EduBirdie were discovered on YouTube channels covering a range of subjects, including ones by stars with as many as four million subscribers.
“We give influencers total freedom on how they prefer to present the EduBirdie platform”
Some YouTubers were even suggesting that the service could free time to “play video games or take drugs”.
The investigation uncovered more than 1,400 videos with a total of more than 700 million views endorsing the company.
But EduBirdie was found to not only be targeting university students, as YouTubers as young as 12 were being paid to personally endorse the service.
Such endorsements included social influencers telling their audience that if they could not be bothered to do the work, EduBirdie could do it instead.
EduBirdie was developed by Boosta, which operates a number of essay-writing websites.
The company told The PIE that not only do they refute the claims of cheating, but they “cannot be held responsible” for the words their advertising partners use.
“We cannot be held responsible for what social influencers say on their channels. We give influencers total freedom on how they prefer to present the EduBirdie platform to their audience in a way they feel would be most relevant to their viewers,” a spokesperson said.
“We do admit that many tend to copy and paste each others’ shout-outs with a focus on “get someone to do your homework for you”, but this is their creative choice,” the firm added.
In response to the investigation, UK universities minister Sam Gyimah called on social influencers to cut their ties with Edubirdie and actively promote the value of education and learning.
“These type of organisations are exploiting vulnerable young people”
He said he was shocked by the nature and scale of the videos: “It’s clearly wrong because it is enabling and normalising cheating potentially on an industrial scale.”
President of the National Union of Students Shakira Martin said the practice was exploiting young students, particularly those who are working to support their studies.
“I think it’s totally disgusting the fact that these type of organisations are exploiting vulnerable young people through getting them to promote something that isn’t good, isn’t ethical,” she added.
In 2017, QAA published guidelines on how to tackle essay mills following TEQSA, Australia’s HE standards agency, releasing a document to address students using paid third-parties to complete assessments.
Following the investigation, several YouTubers have since removed videos with EduBirdie adverts from their channels.