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Weekly news roundup: England to make essay mills illegal

Lily Martin
Last Updated: 8 October 2021 • 2 min read

This week’s news comes from the UK and US, with essay mills set to become illegal in another country and the Times Higher Education subject rankings for engineering being announced.

In the UK, the Office for Students has also announced plans to crack down on ensuring that universities are assessing the spelling and grammar of their students, in a report published today.

Here’s your weekly higher education news roundup. 

England to make essay mills illegal

The practice of offering essay-writing services to students for a fee is to become illegal under new plans to tackle academic cheating.

The use of essay mills has been made illegal in many other countries, and campaigners in the UK have been advocating for them to be made a criminal offence for several years.

Skills Minister Alex Brughart has said essay mills are “completely unethical”.

According to the Quality and Assurance Agency for Higher Education, there are more than one thousand essay mills in operation.

The agency, which is the watchdog for standards in UK universities, said that the decision “sends a clear signal” but that the higher education sector must work together to put these “unscrupulous outfits” out of business.

A survey in 2018 suggested that 15.7% of recent graduates admitted to cheating, but Universities UK maintain that the use of essay mills by students was rare.

A spokeswoman said that universities welcomed the decision to make essay mills illegal, and said that all universities have codes of conduct with severe penalties for submitting work that was not a students’ own.

Office for Students threaten action on spelling and grammar

England’s higher education regulator, The Office for Students, has pledged to take action against institutions that disregard poor spelling and grammar in student assessments.

The OfS said that all learners in higher education should be assessed in spelling, punctuation and grammar in order “to maintain quality and protect standards”. From October 2022, it will be taking action against any institution not doing so.

These requirements have been outlined in a new report, published on October 7, following a review of assessment practices.

The OfS began to investigate after “reports in the press” that some UK providers had implemented policies that allowed them to disregard poor spelling and grammar in an attempt to be more inclusive.

The Director of Regulation at the OfS, Susan Lapworth, said that in publishing the report, the regulator was being “clear with universities and colleges that we want to see change. Effective assessment should take into account all aspects of a student’s work, and this includes their ability to express themselves effectively and correctly in written English.”

Computer science and engineering rankings released

The rankings for the computer science and engineering subject rankings for 2022 have been announced by Times Higher Education.

The US and UK have maintained their positions as world leaders in the subjects, however universities in Australia have made considerable progress in the latest rankings.

Ranking first for computer science is The University of Oxford, with the top ten dominated by US institutions including Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The rise in ranking of many US universities, especially those in California are being attributed to greater scores in working with industry, alongside improvements in research and teaching.

The United States also tops the engineering table, with the University of Oxford dropping from second to sixth place. The University of Harvard, the University of Berkeley and the University of Stanford take the top three places.

ETH Zurich and the National University of Singapore are the only universities not in the UK or US to rank in the top ten for engineering, coming ninth and tenth respectively.

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Lily Martin
Written By
Lily Martin

Lily is a Content Writer and Editor based in Manchester, UK. She is passionate about travel, literature and higher education.

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