ITV drama 'Cheat', broadcast on Monday night, and a subsequent article in the Times on Tuesday have highlighted the ongoing problem of 'contract cheating', where students pay people to write essays for them to pass off as their own work, said Julian Sladdin of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com.
'Cheat' centred on an allegation of cheating against a student who had purchased a dissertation from an essay mill, while the Times report highlighted the ease with which students can buy essays as well as research on the scale of the problem.
As many as one in seven recent graduates may have paid for an essay to be written for them by someone else, according to Swansea University study, while the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA) found 17,000 cases of cheating by students, although no breakdown of contract cheating cases is available from the QAA figures, the Times report said.
Last autumn, 46 senior figures from across the higher education sector called for new legislation to be introduced in the UK to ban "the provision and advertising of essay mills". Essay mills are already prohibited under New Zealand law, while draft legislation has similarly been prepared in Australia and Ireland.
In response to that letter, however, the then universities minister Sam Gyimah said that while legislative options are "not off the table", there were actions institutions can take themselves to combat contract cheating, the BBC reported at the time.
Sladdin said it is clear, though, that the resources available to universities and colleges themselves cannot address what is becoming a serious worldwide issue of academic fraud.
Sladdin said: "As highlighted last year, the issue of plagiarism and 'contract' cheating continues to be a major issue for the higher education sector both in the UK and internationally. The difference in the UK appears to be the apparent reluctance of the UK government to listen to university leaders’ concerns about the significant impact that 'essay mills' are having on the ability to ensure academic integrity and its failure to take measures such as legislation to tackle the issue."