UAE: The practice of selling black-market essays, projects and research papers to students on university campuses across the UAE is alive and kicking.
Gulf News has learnt about the widespread demand for these items, though putting a number on the size of the problem is difficult — given that no UAE research is available on the topic.
But studies in other countries show how rampant is the practice. A study by Manchester University found that 45 per cent of students surveyed from across the UK in 2010 said that they were “sure” that in the past year another student had cheated during an essay, report, test or exam.
Gulf News interviewed a Dubai student who admitted he was caught trying to pass work that was not his own during a business course he was struggling with in his second year.
“The end of the semester was approaching," recalled the student, who requested anonymity. "Passing the course depended on our final project, so my group and I decided to buy a project from a straight A student who had previously taken the course.
“When we started presenting our project on submission day the professor became furious. Turns out we were presenting the same project the previous team submitted because the straight A student had sold us both the same project. Both groups received an F and had to repeat the course after paying Dh3,000 to purchase the project.”
A former student at a university in Sharjah, who got away with submitting a paper she bought online, said it was a one-off thing.
“My professor called me into her office and told me that a paper, which I had worked so hard on, was so poor that I had to rewrite it. It was the final week, I had many other things to submit and study for and I was scared that if I did not have the time to do it my overall GPA would drop. It was a one-time thing that I did not repeat; I got 86 per cent on the paper.”
Writing for someone else is a thriving business, at least for one ghostwriter tracked down by Gulf News, who said: "Business is good."
In fact, he said business was so good he now has an active list of more than two dozen university students who regularly depend on his services.
You may think that stress, bad grades and laziness are the main reasons why students resort to these measures, however, according to the ghostwriter, a poor grasp of English is usually the cause.
“You may be surprised that most of my clients are straight A students, they do all the research and know everything. They can explain it to me perfectly in Arabic but cannot write it in English.”
The ghostwriter said that most of his clients are from GCC countries and are taught in Arabic in public schools. Other top customers include Russians and Indians.
The ghostwriter charges around Dh100 per page, however loyal customers and bulk buyers receive a discount. The source, who wanted to remain anonymous, added that the pages requested can range from one page to 20, however the average number of pages is three. He added that the cost of a paper can go as high as Dh2,000 depending on the topic and number of pages.
The source also revealed that the end of the semester is his busiest time, where in extreme cases he can have up to 40 clients. “During these times I work on more than five different papers per day,” he said.
He said he is popular among students, not only because of his good writing skills but also for the measures he takes to ensure the students do not get caught.
“I tone down the English depending on the student’s capability of the language, I also never plagiarise, I write everything from scratch. After writing the paper I sit with the students and I explain the paper thoroughly so that he will be able to answer any questions that the professor might ask.
“So far none of my clients has ever got caught,” he added.
Another ghostwriter said that most of her clients are students who attend the same university she graduated from.
She revealed that the cost of her service can reach Dh5,000, the shorter the deadline the higher the charge. “I do this as a side job in addition to my full-time job at a corporate company. I won’t say that it pays as well as my full-time job but it is still lucrative.”
Online writing services
A simple online search for ‘buy an essay online’ will return almost 100 million hits, revealing a thriving business that is steadily growing in popularity among university students abroad, and more recently among students in the UAE.
Most of these online writing services claim to provide custom-written essays by native English-speaking writers. They also pledge to provide 100 per cent authenticity to ensure students are not accused of plagiarism.
The majority of these websites provide essays for high school, undergraduate, postgraduate and even PhD students in return for a fee that usually ranges from $13 (Dh47) to $40 per page, depending on the deadline and the academic level of the student.
According to a British news agency the online essay industry is estimated to be worth more than £200 million (Dh1,201 million) in the UK alone.
According to Zeenath Reza Khan, an instructor at the University of Wollongong in Dubai (UOWD), who is working on her PhD research paper about students’ attitude towards cheating, this form of cheating is called e-cheating because students are using electronic methods such as websites.
Websites offering such services often claim they are providing ‘model’ essays for students.