How academic cheating is acceptable and beneficial
A story of students making money by writing essays for their counterparts
Vlasta – her name has been changed at her request to protect the source – entered the legal-yet-unethical business of writing essays for money by accident in late 2014. On a Prague tram, her classmate mentioned she is writing papers for a girl, student of psychology.
“She told me she is working on some articles for this girl,” Vlasta said. “She was getting paid for it, but it was a drag.”
Vlasta’s schoolmate got tired of this business and in two months, Vlasta took over her job.
“I knew nothing about the field and I ended up writing student psychology papers,” she said, laughing.
Writing academic papers for another student for money, even bachelor or master theses, is hardly a new phenomenon.
But the internet and new technologies made it more accesible and harder to detect. Even companies, labelled in the Czech Republic as ‘research agencies’, are facilitating anonymous contacts between those willing to pay for essays and those writing them.
The number of these agencies is on the rise and they are profiting from a growing demand, but they hardly represent the whole market, said Veronika Kralikova, a doctoral student at the Brno-based Mendel university and a leading expert on the subject.
“These agencies are for sure just a tip of an iceberg. I found in my research that around 60% of contracted student essays are done by a schoolmate, friend or someone close,” said Kralikova.
University essay writers for hire interviewed by Journey for this story give a similar picture. Four out of five entered the field informally via a word of mouth rather than through an agency.
“My ex-boyfriend told me about one girl, who wanted me to write essays for her. Personal management, something I never did. In three, four days I did 15 pages,” said Julie – her name has been changed at her request to protect the source – highly qualified student in her mid-twenties.
Cogito, ergo sum
First essay Vlasta wrote for money was about Rene Descartes. She studied philosophy at a university, so it was hardly difficult for her.
“But it was just too good, too exaggerated,” Vlasta recalled.
The response from a university was it should be a reflection essay, not a seminar paper. She deleted it and in 15 minutes wrote a simple essay. “It was an A,” said Vlasta.
Later, more and more difficult assignments had started pouring in. “I invented a patient with a mental disorder to write a case history,” said Vlasta.
Her customer gave her a description of a female schizophrenic. “I wrote down her profile, put her into different situations and was guessing what she can do,” Vlasta said.
Vlasta was later simulating asking questions related to sexual history and intimate life to someone and making up the answers. Or she prepared PowerPoint presentation and briefed her client on the matter.
Still, Vlasta found in her client some deep, inner motivation for the study. “I think she really wanted to be a child psychologist. But she had no interest or general knowledge in this field. I don’t want to see the kids coming to her office,” Vlasta said.
“It is happening everywhere”
The problem is not related only to the Czech Republic or the post-communist countries. Kralikova participated in an international survey of six countries – the Czech Republic, Chile, Sweden, Australia, Serbia and Romania.
Sweden scored the best with 5.4% of respondents identified as buying at some point at least one essay. Second ended Australia with 7.5%. The Czech Republic had similar results as Serbia or Chile – around 19%. The worst was Romania with over 28% of students identified as buyers.
“It is really not just a problem of only Eastern Europe, it is happening everywhere. I was even in the United Arab Emirates, where they thought this is not happening. They were shocked,” Kralikova said.
Vlasta did dozens of essays. Julie produced up to 100 papers in two years, including two master theses, two bachelor ones and one MBA dissertation. Other interviewees wrote around 10 essays.
Stories behind each are different but bear strikingly same patterns. One of the main incentives are good and quick money, plus educating yourself.
Marcela, another highly skilled student for hire, earned CZK2,500 (almost €100) per eight pages long essay. “I needed just afternoon to write it,” she said.
Sometimes it was even a necessity. Vlasta had to choose between cleaning for a ridiculous amount of money or writing academic papers.
“I was working as a cleaning lady, but my back, arms, everything hurt so much. And when I was later studying abroad, money for essays saved me,” said Vlasta.
Money was also an important issue for Julie, who was as well studying abroad for some time. Once, she pondered ethics of producing a master thesis for a client but continued anyway.
“I had a moral problem with an MBA thesis. But it was CZK45,000 (€1,800) and it was fun,” she said bluntly.
Both writing, and money helped them to develop important skills, earn new knowledge and push the carrier forward.
“It enabled me to do things I always wanted but which I would never ever do without it. Like internships abroad,” said Julie.
Their family and friends found nothing weird about writing essays and theses for money. Their job was not met with outrage.
“All the people around me, including my family, told me not to worry about it. My own partner and parents supported me,” said Julie.