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Brushing your teeth can do more harm than good

The return of slavery could give an impetus to modern economies

Eating dates boosts the memory of camels

DUBAI: No school or college in its right frame of mind will ask you to write an essay on these absurd topics.

But in the unlikely event they do, help is at hand — just a few clicks away, to be precise.

All you have to do is hire one of the many online essay-writing mills in the UAE.

For Dh140 they will gladly write a 500-word ‘non plagiarised, authentic, error-free essay’ on any topic.

For prices ranging from Dh400 to Dh1,000, they will also write your thesis and research paper — even a personal statement that’s guaranteed to impress the admission officer and open the door to your dream overseas college — or so these companies would have you believe.

Undercover investigation

As part of a Gulf News investigation, we posed as aspiring university applicants and randomly contacted several such UAE-based agencies with improbable assignments.

The outcome was shocking.

Our first stop was an agency which prides itself as the "most recommended research essay writing agency in the UAE".

Secret of camel’s memory

Shortly after we paid Dh140, it emailed us an argumentative essay on how "Eating dates can boost the memory of the one-humped dromedary camel".

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Cover page of the essay sent to us by an agency which prides itself as the most recommended research essay writing agency in the UAE

An extract from their outlandish submission reads: “There are numerous dates in the country and too many for the animals and for the humans too… The camels especially the Dromedary camels are known to eat dates a lot. The other camels which are mostly in other parts of the world rarely eat date or never eat them.

"Due to this reason, the Dromedary camels are considered to have a lot of sense and memory as compared to other camels. By eating these dates, these camels are considered to have very rare chance or risk of any kind of disease. This can also be seen that these camels rarely get sick and even when they do; the disease is not too much to make a fuss about.”

Tooth brushing hazards

Similarly another essay mill sent us around 300 words on ‘Why brushing teeth (not over brushing, mind you) can do more harm than good’.

“This [the act of brushing] causes the layer of the gum to recede due to its fragility and exposure which causes it to be directly affected and came in contact with the bristles of the brush which are the major element of damaging in terms of practicing the conventional style of brushing.

"Modern times has done more harm to the health of the tooth and gums rather than the benefits,” reasoned the wise men at the firm, which claims to have 90 active writers working on 150 orders.

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By its own admission it has completed 16,680 orders so far. ‘Buy dissertation online’ is among many ‘services’ it brazenly flaunts on its website where new orders get a 10 per cent discount.

Glowing testimonials

Almost all sites have glowing testimonials from ‘satisfied’ customers.

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Students gloating about how they got top grades on the testimonial page of an essay mill in Dubai

“They are exceedingly pleasing and provide quick assignment help,” says Fatma from Abu Dhabi about an academic service provider who charged us Dh140 for an essay explaining ‘How the return of slavery may aid the economic structure of developing nations’.

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Screen shot of the home page of an essay mill which readily sent us an essay explaining 'How the return of slavery may aid the economic structure of developing nations'

Another student, Roger Haley, gloats how his ‘professors were left really impressed by his research work’ after he hired an essay mill for his final dissertation project. On yet another website, Zaynab from Dubai crows about getting A+grades for a ghostwritten history essay.

Troubling questions

Such claims raise disturbing questions: Is passing somebody’s work as your own ethical, or even lawful? Second, why would someone with a Ph.D. take part in such fraudulent activity?

1


in 6 students, or an estimated 31 million, has engaged in contract cheating says a study

In the past students may have sought help from friends to complete their assignments or write essays for them.

But technology has now spawned an essay-for-hire industry thanks to sleek websites which offer 24/7 customer service hotlines, live chats and money-back guarantees.

A simple google search throws up over 50 such essay-mills in the UAE tempting students with tailor-made content.

Dubious services

Led by PhD scholars and dissertation experts, they offer an array of dubious educational writing services, charging varying amounts based on the nature of the assignment, deadline, topic and word count.

50


is the approximate number of essay mills operating in the UAE

For students struggling with deadlines, the temptation of outsourcing assignments is often hard to resist. And it’s these vulnerable groups the essay mills prey on.

“Do you struggle with your college coursework and it stresses you out?” says the website one such company. “Are you falling behind your peers and need help?” asks another.

S.K. , an undergraduate Indian student who paid Dh600 to an essay mill for a thesis said he approached the firm more out of desperation than an intention to cheat the system. “I was way behind deadline. I had no choice, ” he said.

What educational consultants say

But the reasoning doesn’t cut ice with Saima Asghar Riaz, recruitment representative of a leading university in the UK.

“Seeking a third party’s help is understandable but getting them to write something from scratch is academic fraud,” she said.

Seeking a third party’s help is understandable but getting them to write something from scratch is academic fraud

- Saima Asghar Riaz, international recruitment representative of a leading UK university

According to her, outsourcing university assignments amounts to contract cheating - a widespread epidemic with research showing as one in six students, or an estimated 31 million, has engaged in the practice.

Business Insider earlier reported that the network of companies peddling completed schoolwork has a potentially far greater reach than the US college-admissions scandal.

Plagiarism is never ethical, nor is it wise, in any form. Universities utilise complex algorithms and software to determine if a student’s work is not his own, which carries serious repercussions if discovered

- Peter Davos, founder Hale Group

“When a student commissions someone else to do his work, he is violating every ethical standard,” said Peter Davos, founder of Hale Group, a leading educational consulting firm focusing on US university admissions in the UAE.

“This is particularly true in the case of the university personal statement which is meant to capture a student’s individual voice. How can someone else effectively capture your personal story? These efforts are often self-destructive,” said Davos.

“Once a student goes down this path, there is no turning back, as they begin to outsource every piece of work that is possible, for the sake of convenience. If this is the approach to education, then why bother?” he said.

Plagiarism perils

“Plagiarism is never ethical, nor is it wise, in any form. Universities utilise complex algorithms and software to determine if a student’s work is not his own, which carries serious repercussions if discovered,” warned Davos.

The repercussions are harsher than one might imagine. At many UK universities, for instance, you can be permanently expelled, even on a first offence.

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A Sharjah based educational consultant said the notion that purchased essays can trick a plagiarism software is not true.

Anti-plagiarism tool

“These days, most UK universities use anti-plagiarism software — such as Turnitin, which identifies plagiarised material. Students often forget that their essays are forever stored in the software’s database.

"As the software improves, it looks at hundreds of telltale characteristics to detect differences between previous works and flags them up for scrutiny.

“It is sad that students resort to tricks which devalues the very programme they are pursuing and makes a mockery of education,” he added.

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Essay Writing mills ensnared in the sting operation evaded our phone calls.

“We are in the business for several years and handle dozens of orders daily,” said a representative of one such company before hanging up.

“You gave us a rubbish topic so we gave you a rubbish essay,” said a woman at the agency which enlightened us about the memory- enhancing powers of dates on camels

Subsequent calls remain unanswered while emails seeking comments elicited no response.

We contacted several other essay and dissertation writing companies. Only two responded.

In its defence, one firm claimed that their job is limited to providing professional guidance, mainly on issues related to content writing, proofreading, editing and grammar.

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Technology has spawned an essay-for-hire industry thanks to sleek websites which offer 24/7 customer service hotlines, live chats and money-back guarantees

The essay mill said: “If you or anyone is facing a problem in drafting professional content/ English writing skills, then taking professional help is your decision for editing or proofreading or guidance in writing or grammar issues,” adding “no one get an admission unless he or she possess the qualifications, skills or the required grade and clears the tests and interviews”

For students struggling with deadlines, the temptation of outsourcing assignments is often hard to resist. And it’s these vulnerable groups the essay mills prey on.

“SOP (Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement) is a document which talks about the actual abilities of a person and his achievements. This is original which cannot be misrepresented. We only help to edit or proofread it in a professional way,” the company said in an email statement to Gulf News.

Another firm said: “Many students are not good at writing a personal statement. Should these shortcomings stop them from getting admission to a university? No. So we meet them in person and guide them through the process while honing their skills.”

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An academic writing company in Dubai charged us Dh140 for this essay on ‘Why brushing teeth can do more harm than good’

However, our investigations show otherwise.

None of the companies we approached appeared interested in understanding our assignments or meeting us. All what they are interested were: The topic, deadline and payment.

It took us less than five minutes to order ridiculous essays from their websites. We entered our personal details, picked a category from a dropdown menu, gave the topic and mentioned the word count before being directed to a payment gateway. A few days later the essays arrived in our inbox, as promised.

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Online order form of the essay writing mill from where we purchased an essay on 'How eating dates could boost a camel’s memory'

Calling one of these agencies for a statement of interest for an overseas university application took even lesser time.

“I don’t have to do any of the writing, right?” our undercover journalist asked after being told she could answer some of their questions over email.

Nothing nothing,” said the man on the other end of the line before giving his bank account where a payment of Dh750 had to be made.

Dh750


is what essay mills charge for a statement of interest for overseas university applications

Essay mills are legal throughout most parts of the developed world including the UAE but they are prohibited in New Zealand and 17 US states in the US with Australia and Ireland set to follow Educational consultants reckon it’s time UAE considered stamping them out.

With inputs from Sara Waqar, Dubai-based freelance writer

(Gulf News is withholding the names of the essay mills for legal reasons)