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Education, Children and Young People Committee

Essay Mills response from Scottish Government

Response from Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills to Conveners letter regarding Essay Mills

Dear Convener

Thank you for your letter of 1 November in respect of correspondence received from Paul Davies MS, Chair of the Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs Committee at the Welsh Parliament, regarding the issue of essay mills. I have noted that the Committee has sought an update on what measures the Scottish Government is taking to address the issue of ‘essay mills’, specifically with regard to extending the proposed ban on ‘essay mills’ via the LCM process.

Academic misconduct, and those individuals and ‘essay mill’ companies seeking to encourage and benefit from such behaviour, is increasingly concerning in higher education across the globe. Although the vast majority of students achieve their qualifications entirely by legitimate means, any form of academic misconduct or cheating poses a threat to overall academic standards at our institutions.

The Quality Assurance Agency, as the quality body for higher education in Scotland, has established an Academic Integrity Charter for UK Higher Education, which is intended to provide a baseline position upon which UK providers can build their own policies and practices to ensure that every student’s qualification is genuine, verifiable and respected.

While we fully respect the autonomy of institutions in establishing their own policies to address this problem, we have welcomed those that have signed up to the Charter. In addition we have endorsed QAA’s sectoral guidance to support institutions in combatting the use of essay mills (Contracting To Cheat In Higher Education), and Scottish Government officials continue to observe the work of QAA’s Academic Integrity Advisory Group.

Although legislation alone is unlikely to end contract cheating at UK higher education institutions, the Scottish Government recognises that the introduction of legislation, coupled with the measures already being introduced by the sector, can play a key role in tackling the issue.

In recent months we have been working with the UK Government and other Devolved Administrations to explore whether cheating services provisions, originally introduced as part of Lord Storey’s Private Members Bill, could extend to other parts of the UK, including Scotland. Regrettably the UK Government has explained that this is no longer possible now that provisions are being added to the Skills and Post-16 Education Bill. It should also be noted that the provisions in this Bill now cover students undertaking a relevant course at a post-16 institution or sixth form in England, not just at a Higher Education institution.

By not extending these provisions to the rest of the UK, there is a risk of contract cheating services being driven out of England into neighbouring jurisdictions, rather than drive them out of existence. The Scottish Government is now actively considering options for similar provisions in Scotland, including pursuing our own legislation. We will continue to engage with the UK Government and Devolved Administrations to consider the best approach to this.

As always, I will continue to keep you updated on our next steps.

Yours sincerely

Shirley-Anne Somerville

Related correspondences

Education, Children and Young People Committee

Essay Mills letter to Scottish Government

Letter from the Convener to the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills

Education, Children and Young People Committee

Essay Mills letter from Welsh Government

Letter from Welsh Economy, Trade and Rural Affairs committee to Welsh Minister for Education and Welsh Language