How Teaching Students to Study Effectively can Reduce Contract Cheating.

by | Dec 16, 2022 | Academic Integrity, Contract Cheating


Ruth Fordham is the Head of the Pre-sessional Academic Skills and Language Programme, which is part of the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures at The University of Manchester. She has worked with and around the pedagogy of English for Academic Purposes for over twenty years, and headed up the Pre-sessional Programme for over four. 




Ruth takes a moment to explain the ways in which the Pre-sessional Programme, run by the University Centre for Academic English, helps their students avoid Essay mills by teaching them  transferable academic skills. Not only does this help international students to adapt to academic life, but also provides adoptable practice for other courses to reduce the impact of academic malpractice across the board. 


The Pre-sessional Programme’s Approach  

The Pre-sessional Programme’s main function is helping International students coming to the University to reach a level of English which will enable them to succeed in their degree programmes  It also provides an opportunity to emphasise the importance of Good Academic Practice. 

We really try to contextualize academic malpractice for the students, by having them do a session on the essay mills industry, which is one of the most prevalent forms of contact cheating. They watch a video created by Nottingham Trent University (linked below), which explores the nature of essay mills, and then discuss it at length. It’s framed as a seminar, where we delve into discussions around why some students might feel attracted to making use of essay writing services, and then why it’s important that they should avoid doing so. Off the back of this seminar, we ask them to go away and write short texts about the topic and ask them to consider the ways it can damage their future prospects and the University’s reputation when students are repeatedly caught using them. 

Reading Between the Lines: Exploring the Essay Mill Industry| Short Documentary 

Honest Discussion 

We try to provide an honest perspective of the topic, so we talk about what kind of circumstances might lead to a student considering an Essay Mill. Then, we discuss why even in difficult circumstances, the long-term benefits are always outweighed by the consequences, and why these services are detrimental to academia. They are also encouraged to consider the ways use of these services can affect their future and end up on their academic record, and how it might show future employers that perhaps they can’t cope under pressure.  Discussing the topic openly and asking students to answer questions themselves is a powerful tool in helping them see how serious contract cheating, and academic malpractice as a whole can be. 


The International Student context 

A lot of our students on the Pre-sessional have already been contacted by these companies and essay mills, and tend to be targeted through emails and via WeChat. Many don’t know what they are in the first place, or that they are even illegal (As of this year!). Much of it is the way that the companies present themselves. They target Pre-Sessional students because they’re new to the way the Institution operates; often its marketed as a tutoring service or someone who will do proof reading for them. Making students informed is just as important as explaining why they shouldn’t use them. 


Discussing Contract Cheating on other Programmes 

From an academic perspective, I think many people are critical of addressing essay writing services, for fear of drawing attention to them.  In our experience, enough students are already contacted about it, and it spreads quickly through WeChat or other social media. We want to try to lead them down a better path or show them the shortcomings of why that is not something they want to do. It’s about giving the tools and effective academic skills that students need so that they don’t even consider using essay writing mills. If you can give students enough academic tools to want to do a good job themselves, they are much less likely to consider the risky alternatives. Combining the two as a part is vital. Learning how to engage in academia ethically is essential   


“ If you can give students enough academic tools to want to do a good job themselves, they are much less likely to consider the risky alternatives. “ 


The Academic Success Programme 

While most students will never go on a Pre-sessional, we also offer an Academic Success Programme. This consists of workshops which build on what we teach in the Pre-sessional, and help people who might have missed it. It’s focused on allowing students to see how they can write academically so that they don’t ever get into a desperate situation where they feel the need to turn to essay mills. While we mostly cater to International Students, contract cheating is an issue across the board. 


More Reading:  


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