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Students: Plagiarism

Question for Department for Education

UIN 161590, tabled on 6 July 2018

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether his Department is undertaking a review to establish the extent to which the practices of companies offering (a) essay writing and (b) other cheat services to students in the UK are illegal.

Answered on

12 July 2018

Cheating is unacceptable - it undermines the reputation of the sector, and devalues the hard work of those succeeding on their own merit.

I welcome the swift action YouTube took to remove videos containing adverts promoting the EduBirdie essay-writing service, in response to recent the BBC Trending investigation on academic cheating, in which I made it very clear that YouTube had a moral responsibility to take action.

We are currently focusing on non-legislative options, but remain open to the future need for legislation, and will investigate all options available. We should only legislate where it is absolutely necessary. The government’s preferred approach is to tackle this issue through a sector-led initiative, which is why the department has worked with the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), Universities UK (UUK) and the National Union of Students to publish guidance last October for all UK Universities on how best to tackle contract cheating.

Time is needed to fully evaluate the effectiveness of the new guidance and this is underway. The QAA is running a series of seminars to evaluate how the sector is using the guidance.

Universities themselves are already taking action, and it is right that they should do so, as it is their own reputations and that of the higher education sector that are on the line. UUK played a key role in developing the new guidance.

In England, through the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, we have brought forward legislation that gives the new Office for Students (OfS) the power to take action if providers are complicit, which including imposing fines or ultimately de-registration of providers, the highest possible punishment.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State’s first ever strategic guidance letter to the OfS made it clear that it is a priority for the OfS to work with the QAA to improve and ensure confidence in the quality and standards of higher education. The OfS has an obligation to report to the Secretary of State, and the department will monitor progress closely.