The crime that is buzzing in Cambridge right now is plagiarism. In fact, we are more immune to this disease than most universities, as so much of our assessment is done by old-fashioned 3-hour exam. This used to make us look like dinosaurs. Now it means that we are at the cutting edge of authenticity testing. You can’t plagiarise in a 3-hour exam, you can only (try to) cheat.
All the same there is a flurry of excitement about one particular company that offers model essays (at 2.2, 2.1 or 1st standard), custom-built to the question of your choice. According to the local paper, this company claims to attract most hits to its website (which is, of course, different from most paid up clients) from Cambridge.
Frankly I don’t believe that many of our students actually sign up (or they are stupider than I take them to be); nor do I imagine that anyone with any financial acumen whatsoever would slave away producing the model answers that they are flogging.
Why buy an essay this way? Well, maybe you have a supervision coming up, you have a far too active a social/sporting/thespian life and you don’t want to get into trouble with your fierce supervisor by not handing in a piece of work. And here it doesn’t directly count to your final degree anyway – so somehow you feel let off the moral hook.
At first sight the website is encouraging. It promises a “no plagiarism” guarantee and an essay tailored to the question and length of your choice, at 1st, 2.1 or 2.2 level. So far so good. But read the small print. The no plagiarism guarantee means only that they guarantee that they have not stolen it from the web. As for you yourself getting done for plagiarism, they politely explain that you should check your own university’s rules. In any case, they say, these essays are their copyright and “cannot be handed in as your own” either in whole or in part. The essays are meant purely as a guideline to research. (Still want to pay £120 per 1000 words per 2.1?)
Besides, the 2.1 etc guarantee is not exactly what you think. The small print explains that this is not a guarantee in the popular sense of the word at all: “the customer agrees that in no way does the 2:2, 2:1, or 1st class guarantee constitute a guarantee of the mark awarded to any piece submitted by a Customer who has used the services of Degree Essays UK, or any guarantee of the Customer's final degree mark.” So what kind of guarantee was it then?
All the same, supposing you already have a good degree, you might be tempted to write essay for them, to earn a bit on the side. I wouldn’t bother. Suppose you write a 1000 words of 2.1 essay on demand within 5 days. According to the website, you get £40, paid out of the £120 the company gets. Even the most rapacious tutorial college don’t pay their teachers so little and take such a big rake off..
So what am I going to do about it.? Well I’m tempted to cough up my £120 and ask for 1000 words at 2.1 standard on “Are Ovid’s Amores about more that just Amor?” or “‘Dona ferentes. . .’ Is this a fair description of first century Greeks?”. Then I might read out what I get back to my assembled first years in October, just so they know I’m on the case.
I would also explain to them that Cambridge supervisions involve thinking hard, doing your best, getting things wrong, and talking it through. And that is what learning is all about – not the commercial quick-fix.