Most undergraduate degrees in the U.K. are taught in a modular fashion, with an allocation of 'credits' or similar granted to each student to select individual courses, usually in the department or school in which their degree is based, and construct a semi-personalised degree programme. Students normally take half a dozen modules a year, and these are assessed using a combination of coursework assignments, exams or research papers.
The recent emergence of 'freelance writing' websites has provided unwilling or unable undergraduates the opportunity to 'outsource' their coursework, for a reasonable fee naturally. I suspected that undergraduates (and even postgrads) are using these services to submit essays and dissertations that are not original, effectively degrading the academic integrity of their degree and those of their peers in the process. These sites undoubtedly profit from this arrangement, and I consider them to be fully aware of the potential for abuse of their system and its affect on higher education, but they have a number of loopholes to exploit that avoid the possibility of any wrongdoing on their part.
I recently signed up to one of these sites as a freelance researcher to further investigate the nature of the industry, and the level and subject of submissions. My intention was merely to observe and investigate and I feel that it is worth mentioning that I never completed or entered a bid for any project, and received no payment. I also think it's probably best that I do not mention the name of the website, as I'm sure I couldn't afford to defend myself against any legal proceedings that their studious lawyers may bring against me. What I will say however is that they vet their researchers thoroughly; I had to provide details of my qualifications (degree certificates etc.) and identity and these were vehemently scrutinised for a number of days before I was accepted.
The 'briefs' are organised on a central page and researchers can review and bid on them depending on their level and area of expertise. In my experience, many of the projects came from legal and social science courses, but other subjects such as engineering, health and biology were also well represented. All levels of work are available, from A-level to PhD. Many of the briefs were very brazen about the fact that they were very obviously intended to be submitted as a dissertation or piece of graded coursework, as opposed to the 'research' or 'note-making' that the website's administrators claimed their service was providing. For example, the screen-capture below clearly shows that the project submitted by the researcher will be submitted as a PhD proposal in the field of management, for entry to a UK university.Continued on the next page