Why do university students in the UK buy assignments from essay mills?

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This article considers the growing crisis on a specific form of plagiarism in the UK where students purchase assignments from so called essay mills, which they then submit as their own work. It departs from the dominant discourses, however, to highlight the sociological context within which such student plagiarism, termed contract cheating, is occurring. This context revolves around an increasing shortage of graduate jobs and the stress and anxiety caused by the competition for the jobs that are available. It argues that the dominant discourses that simply describe and denounce contract cheating are not only devoid of such a contextual understanding, they work against such an analysis. It concludes that the way to prevent or eradicate such student plagiarism lies not in the criminalisation and punishment of offending businesses or individual miscreants but, rather, in a sociological understanding of why it occurs in the first place, which signals the need for radical reform of the existing social order as it relates to employment and education.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalCritical Education
Issue number10
Early online date7 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2020


  • Student plagiarism
  • contract cheating
  • essay mills
  • strain theory
  • disposable people
  • political violence

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