Kexin Lee is a 36-year-old man from Southern China,. He has never had college education and can hardly speak any English, but when it comes to essay writing, hundreds of Chinese students in the UK turn to Lee with their essay tasks, paying him from £100 to £300 per thousand words.
Lee then assigns the made-to-order tasks to his ghostwriters in China, and pays them as little as £20 per thousand words.
Since it was founded in 2006, Lee’s business has grown steadily, responding to ever growing demand. “I never want to change my job”, said Lee, “my wife and I ran the business together, now we own a car and an apartment”.
I contacted Lee posing as a Chinese student in want of a job. After filling out a form about my education background, I was given my first task: a 500 words business essay for a student who studies in a University in the UK. I was supposed to write the essay in three days according to the guidelines given to me, and then send the piece back to the student, who can then hand it in to the school.
When we contacted the student he said he was buying the essays to get better marks. We are not using his name to protect his identity.
“Half of the times I buy my essays online”, said the student, “but the difference is not big. For example, if I write my own essay, I may get 55%, if its done by someone else I may get 60%, approximately.”
“But I didn’t have enough time to write my essays, I am lazy, and I am in my third year, I want better marks”.
“In general, the essay done by the others gain better marks.”
Lee is only a minor player in the massive online essay trading industry.
“Essay trading has exceeded £200 million”, said BBC China, in an article published on BBC Mandarin site in March, 2011.
A brief search on Google in Chinese for “overseas essay writing service” provides six results of such nature.
Wang XueFeng, from lunwenmarket.com, said: “We have been in the business for eight years, and we have more than 700 essay writers internationally. Hundreds of students come to us each month.”
“All our essays are carefully crafted by our writers, we guarantee no plagiarism, we never had a problem with turnitin.”
Turnitin is a internet-based plagiarism-prevention service used by many universities in the UK.
However, another student from told me he once ordered an essay from an online essay mill, but it could not meet the originality level required by the university, and he did not get his money back.
Many international online essay mills are also targeting Chinese students.
“We are an international essay company”, said David Hall from the customer service at SuperiorEssay.com. “We have lots of Chinese clients, we receive orders almost everyday from Chinese students.”
Another company based in Arnold, Nottingham, UK, has a Chinese website which says: “essay writers will deliver you a unique, original essay through our confidential customer service system after sufficient reading and researching”.
It is cheating
Essay services have different opinions on whether buying essays from them is cheating.
“I am sure it is not illegal, it is a grey area in law,” said Wang XueFeng, from lunwenmarket.com. “Of course it is cheating, but who doesn’t?”
“Students can submit the essay to their universities, we will do the essay for them, but it will be their ideas, we will follow all the instructions, so it is not cheating.” said David Hall.
Martiz Carline, the customer service manager from the UKEssay, said:” cheating is not our purpose.”
He continued, “The student is not meant to hand that in, or copy from or plagiarise from the work we have done in anyway, but they can look at how we have done it in terms of research, academic sources, structure and so on. The students use our work as a guide, read through what we have done that gives them inspiration, and go on creating their own original piece of work.”
“We have a fair use policy on our website,” said Martiz Carline, “but we cannot stop student from using the service incorrectly”.
However, most universities in the UK, using other’s work is cheating. For example, according to the Academic Discipline of the University of Sheffield, “submitting bought or commissioned work for example from internet sites, essay “banks” or “mills” is an extremely serious form of plagiarism.” and it says for students who does this, “the University may impose penalties ranging from awarding a grade of zero for the assignment through to expulsion from the University in extremely serious cases”.
“The University has a very strict procedure in dealing with cheating,” said Chris Stratford, a tutor from the University of Sussex, “but we have to have hard evidence to prove the misconduct, and if it is proved, the university disciplinary board will make a decision.
“I think if a student is caught using purchased essay, he or she will be thrown out of the university.
“But it is very difficult to detect plagiarism in such way, we have no evidence of such misconduct yet, though we have had cases where people have taken from student websites, and we have a blacklist of about 20 sites that we check,” added Stratford.
- Online essay mills targeting Chinese students (rvampie.com)
- Inside academic plagiarism: Ghostwriters, Turnitin.com and Chris Spence (metronews.ca)
- Rules banning rampant academic cheating in China ‘lack bite’ (chinadailymail.com)