Will outlawing essay mills make plagiarism detection defunct?

The Times Higher this week (9-15 Aug 2018) has an interesting article about the Irish government passing legislation to make essay mills illegal and suggests that countries in the UK should think about following suit.

Although the article acknowledges that off-shore mills may well continue, it makes some very good points about the impact of legislation on the conversations universities might have with their students – moving from a ‘you shouldn’t’ to an ‘it is illegal and criminal’ dialogue.  It should also stop the blatant on-campus advertising that we see today for these mills, and may also stop people writing for the mills.

A natural conclusion may be that such legislation could remove the need for plagiarism detectors, very welcome at a time when budgets are severely stretched.  However, I would argue that it makes such tools not only more necessary, but would require them to become more sophisticated.

Submissions originating from high quality essay mills are by their nature difficult to detect as they can be original work meaning that standard originality checkers won’t pick them up.  If students know that there are no tools to detect output from higher quality essay mills, then the temptation will still be there.

So making essay mills illegal may actually increase the demand for tools to identify such cheating.



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