The phenomenon of paying companies to write essays and dissertations means academic work can be submitted as a student’s own efforts – affecting the class of degree awarded.
Hundreds of internet firms, based in the UK and overseas, offer their services.
Grades can determine career prospects with some companies not interviewing graduates below a 2:1.
Universities Scotland and NUS Scotland said the companies were “acting immorally on all levels”, preying on vulnerable students, many of whom have jobs to finance their studies.
Scottish universities condemned the practice.
Costs vary but the average price charged for a 1,000-word essay at 2:1 standard is £138 at seven days’ notice, with costs escalating for shorter notice. Dissertations cost approximately £1,700.
Daniel Dennehy, chief executive of Nottingham-based UK Essays, whose firm employs over 50 staff and hundreds of freelancers, including many based in Scotland, said: “We’re catering for a demand which is there. Pre-internet, students could pay a private tutor for help. It’s an investment in the future.
“These days there is less one-to-one time with tutors meaning many students are not getting help and support. But if they are receiving a model answer from us they learn structuring, referencing and sourcing.
“Is it cheating? If used incorrectly yes. We can’t guarantee customers won’t hand in a model essay. That’s why we want to work with the universities so they can check what students are doing, but they won’t connect with us.”
Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland president, said today’s students are under increasing pressure.
“It’s deeply concerning to see students turning to contract essays, enabling companies with no interest in their academic future to profit from their stress.
“We need to have a serious look at why students feel they have no option but to turn to these companies, and how we can ensure students are making the most of existing support services.”
A Universities Scotland spokesman, said: “These ‘essay mills’ and other companies offering similar services are acting immorally on all levels.
“Universities are aware of this type of business and have software in place to detect plagiarism.”
A spokesman for the University of St Andrews said: “We have polices in place on plagiarism and academic misconduct which make clear that the use of essay mills is forbidden.”
A University of Edinburgh spokesman said academic misconduct was taken very seriously and that it had invested in plagiarism detection software to combat such behaviour.
A University of Aberdeen spokesperson said: “We are aware of this as a potential issue and have very robust quality assurance processes and would be sensitive to any assessment that was uncharacteristic of the other assessments that a student achieved in a specific course or across the broad range of courses that a student undertakes as part of their studies.”