Maybe so, but it’s pretty simple to do. Just go on the internet, type “essay writing”, and a host of firms will be clamouring to help with your coursework. “Where A Student’s Life Becomes Easier,” purrs the website UKBestEssays.com; less reassuring is its claim: “We provide piece of mind.”
Indeed, while these companies promise round-the-clock customer support and teams of 200 to 4,000 highly qualified essay-crafters, producing pieces of work that will pass all plagiarism tests, some appear to be more, well, questionable.
Question number one: are they in the UK? Not UKBestEssays. Despite a website showing Union Flags, the girl at the end of the phone says she’s in Delaware in the US. And when the rather distant-sounding man at Essaydom.co.uk is asked if I can visit his office, he says he can’t give me the address because I “might bring the police”.
“We all get tarred with the same brush,” complains Jilly Walden, quality manager at UKEssays.com, based at the same address (in Arnold, near Nottingham) as Degree Essays (www.degree-essays.com) and Law Teacher (www.lawteacher.net)
“Yet, unlike other companies, we are happy to publish our address, and we are happy for students to visit us; we have got academics in-house. Nor do we condone plagiarism. It’s made very clear to clients that we don’t supply essays; we give model answers around which they frame their ideas. We see it as no different to a lecturer pointing students towards a document in a library. As far as we know, 99.9 per cent of customers use our products correctly.”
But it’s hard to believe someone would pay £660 purely for a stimulating read. However, the founder of London-based Oxbridge Essays, Stratos Malamatinas, who says his firm (www.oxbridgeessays.com) gets 10,000-plus orders per year, stands by the ''it’s-just-a-framework’’ stance. “It’s made explicit to our customers that they should use our material merely as inspiration, and they should express themselves in their own words,” he declares.
“That said, 75 per cent of our customers are foreign students who, although talented, can’t express themselves as well in English as in their own language. British universities are happy to take their money, without checking their English. There’s a real greediness among British universities; students are left to struggle, and are forced to turn to a private company, rather than getting help that should be supplied by the university. It’s not just foreign students. Most UK students who come to us are profoundly unhappy with the tuition they get, [with] no formal instruction in the writing and structuring of essays.”
Especially when that essay is 90,000 words.
“I’m fine on research, and I can talk about the subject till the cows come home, but I need guidance in putting material together and expressing it in academic terms,” says Geoff (not his real name), who is doing a PhD in marketing at University College London, and is paying Oxbridge Essays to help him with his 400-page-plus thesis.
“They are writing the guideline, so to speak, and I am mimicking it in my own words. It’s going to take a couple of years and I’ll have paid them a five-figure sum, but it’s worth it. I am aware that some people do just take this kind of work and pass it off as their own – so I don’t want my real name in The Daily Telegraph, in case people think that’s what I’ve done.”
The same applies to “Dan”, a second-year student at Bristol University, who, in his first year, sought outside help with an essay on tragedy in Shakespeare. “I felt like I wasn’t getting much academic direction,” he says. “The number of students at lectures was enormous. I was getting no real feedback.” Instead of buying an essay off the internet, he turned to the tutorial agency Bright Young Things, which spent three and a half hours with him (at £60 an hour) planning his essay. Result? A 2:1 grade, but it was all his own work.
“We don’t write people’s essays, we merely teach them essay-production skills,” maintains Oliver Eccles, one of Bright Young Things’ senior tutors.
That’s not to say that tutors don’t get asked to do a bit of proxy essay-penning, though.
“I’ve had some difficult conversations with parents and students who want me to write the essay,” says Michelle Okin, who runs the tutorial agency Rose Okin (£40-£75 per hour). “But how are they going to stand on their own feet if they’ve always had the stabilisers on?”
It’s a powerful argument. Indeed, many would argue that the spread of tutoring in higher education was inevitable, considering how prevalent it has become in secondary and primary education. But the more immediate question for any student contemplating an essay purchase, is more likely to be – can I get away with it?
The answer is yes, if the work has been written by the kind of brilliant academic mind the websites claim to have on their books (Stratos Malamantinas says he has essay-writers who earn between £20,000 and £70,000 per year).
“If it truly is an original work, then it will get through the plagiarism-detection software,” says Will Murray, whose firm supplies Turnitin, the plagiarism checking system used by most UK universities. “But sometimes the writing has been outsourced to India, or America, and the grammar and expressions will reflect that. I’ve even seen cases where the student has left in the name of the person who actually wrote the essay.”
Ideally, prevention is better than detection. By inviting students to discuss essays, university tutors can monitor the sudden arrival of unfamiliar thoughts and ideas.
“My instinct is very much against the combative 'We don’t trust you’ approach,” says Professor Ward. “Rather than going for the Orwellian system, whereby we monitor our students’ internet traffic, I favour making them understand the only people being ripped off by these short cuts is them.”
Finally, there is always the worry that the immaculately written document you have bought is not as fresh as claimed, and may contain great chunks of pre-plagiarised text that will set off the digital detection sirens.
“So the question,” says Will Murray, “is how confident are you that the essay you are handing in, that has been written by someone you have never met, is 100 per cent original?”
French courses for 2018
French is the first language of around 90 million people around the world, being spoken in Canada, Africa, the Indian Ocean, the Caribbean, Polynesia and other parts of Europe and Asia.
Close European integration makes knowledge of French language and culture both necessary and rewarding, while Francophone countries offer diverse and stimulating cultures for study.
A degree in French from Bristol will enable you to achieve an excellent level of spoken and written French while providing the opportunity to discover the society, culture, literature and linguistic history of these fascinating countries.
Why study French at Bristol?
Our French department encourages strong synergy between research and teaching, resulting in a vibrant learning environment for our students, as staff respond in their teaching to ground-breaking research. Our courses provide an enriching experience with exciting intellectual challenges, offering a wide range of options building on a solid foundation year.
The department has a strong intake of highly qualified and well-motivated students every year and enjoys an outstanding reputation. All our French degrees last four years and include a period of residence in a French-speaking country on a work or study placement during the third year. Some Bristol students choose to spend their time in France, while others choose more exotic locations such as La Réunion or Martinique.
Bristol is a very exciting place to study arts and humanities, with a thriving cultural life, several art cinemas, concert halls and theatres, and a lively, cosmopolitan atmosphere. Students in the department have access to a state-of-the-art multimedia centre.
What kind of student would this course suit?
The French course at Bristol will suit you if you have a love of language and a desire to explore the broader cultural contexts in which that language is used. We look for students with intellectual curiosity and a desire to open their minds to francophone culture in different periods, from medieval to contemporary.
French has official status in more countries in the world than any other language except English. Advanced study of French, plus the opportunity to work or study in another culture, is perfect for you if you have a global vision.
How is this course taught and assessed?
You can study French as Single Honours or as Joint Honours with one or more other languages or one of several other subjects including music, philosophy or politics.
You will be expected to engage with French language in all areas of study, to participate actively in seminars and classes, and to engage fully with cultural and social activities in the department. Learning is supported by online materials.
Language work is assessed through a variety of tasks including exams, with regular exercises in translation and essay writing as well as oral and aural practice in small groups.
Other units are assessed by coursework essays, presentations, extended essays or exams.
What are my career prospects?
A high proportion of language graduates find employment in jobs where their languages and experience are advantageous. There are an increasing number of opportunities with international organisations where fluency in French and knowledge of French institutions and culture is essential.
Employers will value your international outlook as well as the excellent organisational and communication skills gained from these degrees. Relevant areas include publishing, the Civil Service and Foreign Office, journalism, the media, teaching, marketing, finance, consultancy and tourism.
Read more about what students from Modern Languages go on to do after graduation.