Damian Hinds’ call for PayPal to block transactions with essay-writing firms is to be welcomed (University cheats should be reported by their peers, minister says, 20 March). However, this can be only one element in the campaign to reduce a problem highlighted by the growing presence of touts who, at the start of the academic year, stand outside university property and hand out cards advertising essay-writing services to passing students, notably targeting identifiable international students who are given flyers written in their home languages.
The impact of Hinds’ initiative, if accepted, will not be evident for a while, and more urgent action is needed. The primary responsibility for this has to lie with each individual university. Vice-chancellors need to see if they can have confidence that their own processes for dealing with the many and complex issues around academic misconduct are robust and, importantly, whether they are being implemented. From my long experience in the sector this is not the case, and there is certainly no consistency between universities, and indeed even between staff in a university and between different courses, in how the general matter of academic misconduct is managed, understood, recorded and analysed. The problem posed by essay-writing services, and academic misconduct generally, needs to be addressed at multiple levels. Damian Hinds’ call is eye-catching and achieved its first purpose of getting news coverage, coinciding with the well-received TV drama Cheat, but vice-chancellors should also look closely and critically at practices in their own institutions.
Emeritus professor of history, Sheffield