The PIE found examples on Twitter of companies that were offering essay writing services, with some specifically targeting international students.
This is despite essay mills being criminalised in England as part of the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill last year.
One twitter account called “Top Essay” tweeted: “Essay writing service for ten years, has been the UK region for international students to provide high-quality reliable British essay writing”
The profile provided a link to a website called www.essay666.com. The PIE found multiple accounts (ukessay6689 and ukessay4444) that were offering similar services to international students in the UK, all which had a link back to this website.
Another company called Essay Mills was offering essay writing services, as well as English language assistance to international students.
The PIE contacted essay666.com and Essay Mills for comment but did not receive a reply.
The Department of Education told The PIE that under current legislation, which came into force on June 28, 2022, it is a criminal offence to provide or arrange for another person to provide contract cheating services for financial gain to students enrolled at a higher education provider in England.
“We’re still seeing essay mills operating as so many of them are based outside England”
It is also an offence for a person to make arrangements for an advertisement in which that person offers, or is described as being available or competent, to provide or arrange for another person to provide a cheating service.
However, experts have said that it is a challenge to stop essay mill companies from operating – especially if they are based in other countries.
“We’re still seeing essay mills operating as so many of them are based outside England, so it would be very difficult to enforce the current law,” academic integrity expert, Thomas Lancaster of Imperial College London, told The PIE.
“What we really need is more provision to prevent these sites from advertising to UK students and being featured in their social media feeds.”
Given that the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill currently only applies to England, Lancaster called for similar provision in the other constituent parts of the UK.
Lancaster told The PIE that there are “certainly companies out there that target international students”.
“Some of them advertise in languages other than English too. There are even services that connect with students prior to starting their degrees, so the student knows that they will have someone to call on when they are stuck,” he said.
He warned that there was a possibility that international students would be blackmailed if they used essay mills and that they run the risk of many problems in the future.
The DfE said that students and education providers are the front line of defence in tackling the problem.
The department added that new legislation serves as a tool to strengthen and enhance sector-led work already taking place to detect, deter and address incidents of cheating.
Government officials will continue to engage with the Office for Students, and other stakeholders and organisations with an interest in this area to help raise awareness of the new legislation and seek support for its effective implementation.
The Office for Students said that it has signed an agreement with National Trading Standards that provides a more direct route to considering breaches of consumer protection law, including essay mills.
This agreement is a guarantee that National Trading Standards will examine each notification referred by the OfS. Either organisation could take action within the confines of their legislative framework, which would be on a case-by-case basis.
However, industry leaders have questioned whether the current system is working.
“Any signs that the system isn’t working and that these companies are still thriving worries me”
Nick Hillman, director of HEPI, told The PIE that the continued presence of essay mills is concerning.
“It took a long time to persuade the government to act. So any signs that the system isn’t working and that these companies are still thriving worries me,” he said.
“I think we’ve all seen the evidence on social media that these companies are still active,” he added.
Hillman said that essay mills are “too important an issue to just fall through the cracks”, and called for consistent monitoring.
“The fact that it has taken The PIE’s journalism to flag this issue suggests that the success of the new measures has not been perhaps monitored by official bodies in the way that might happen in other areas where the law has changed.”
The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education campaigned for the introduction of the legislation to ban essay mills and their advertising for several years. However, a spokesperson said that legislation is only one part of the solution.
“QAA continues to support higher education institutions in tackling this issue through guidance across a range of areas including effective assessment design and approaches to investigating academic misconduct,” it said.
“We have also engaged with devolved governments to discuss the introduction of similar legislation across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland,” it added.