Profiling the international academic ghost writers who are providing low-cost essays and assignments for the contract cheating industry

Thomas Lancaster, (2018) “Profiling the international academic ghost writers who are providing low-cost essays and assignments for the contract cheating industry”, Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society,



Students have direct access to academic ghost writers who are able to provide for their assessment needs without the student needing to do any of the work. These ghost writers are helping to fuel the international industry of contract cheating, raising ethical dilemmas, but not much is known about the writers, their business or how they operate. This paper aims to explore how the ghost writers market their services and operate, based on observable information.


This paper reviews data from providers actively offering contract cheating services available to the public on, a low-cost micro outsourcing site. The search term write essay is used to identify providers, finding 103 Gigs from 96 unique providers. Visible information, such as provider marketing, advertised services, pricing information and customer reviews, is analysed.


The results demonstrate that bespoke essays are readily available to students at a low cost. The majority of providers operate from Kenya. Revenue calculations indicate a price point of US$31.73 per 1,000 words, below the cost of traditional essay mills, but show that these 96 providers have generated around US$270,000 of essay writing business between them.


This study affords a look into a complex and established industry whose inner workings are normally kept private and for which little published information currently exists. The research adds to what is known about the extent, location and operation of the contract cheating industry.

How Common Is Commercial Contract Cheating in Higher Education?

Newton, P. (2018) How Common Is Commercial Contract Cheating in Higher Education and Is It Increasing? A Systematic Review. Front. Educ. 3:67.


Contract cheating, where students recruit a third party to undertake their assignments, is frequently reported to be increasing, presenting a threat to academic standards and quality. Many incidents involve payment of the third party, often a so-called “Essay Mill,” giving contract cheating a commercial aspect. This study synthesized findings from prior research to try and determine how common commercial contract cheating is in Higher Education, and test whether it is increasing. It also sought to evaluate the quality of the research evidence which addresses those questions. Seventy-one samples were identified from 65 studies, going back to 1978. These included 54,514 participants. Contract cheating was self-reported by a historic average of 3.52% of students. The data indicate that contract cheating is increasing; in samples from 2014 to present the percentage of students admitting to paying someone else to undertake their work was 15.7%, potentially representing 31 million students around the world. A significant positive relationship was found between time and the percentage of students admitting to contract cheating. This increase may be due to an overall increase in self-reported cheating generally, rather than contract cheating specifically. Most samples were collected using designs which makes it likely that commercial contract cheating is under-reported, for example using convenience sampling, with a very low response rate and without guarantees of anonymity for participants. Recommendations are made for future studies on academic integrity and contract cheating specifically.

Contract Cheating: Surveys Of Australian University Staff And Students

Two new publications look in detail of the attitudes of university staff and university students in Australia towards contract cheating.

University Staff

Rowena Harper, T. Bretag, C. Ellis, P. Newton, P. Rozenberg, S. Saddiqui & K. van Haeringen (2018): Contract cheating: a survey of Australian university staff, Studies in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2018.1462789


If media reports are to be believed, Australian universities are facing a significant and growing problem of students outsourcing their assessment to third parties, a behaviour commonly known as ‘contract cheating’. Teaching staff are integral to preventing and managing this emerging form of cheating, yet there has been little evidence-based research to inform changes to their practice. This paper reports on the findings of a large-scale survey of teaching staff in Australian universities on the topic of contract cheating. It investigated staff experiences with and attitudes towards student cheating, and their views on the individual, contextual and organisational factors that inhibit or support efforts to minimise it. Findings indicate that contract cheating could be addressed by improving key aspects of the teaching and learning environment, including the relationships between students and staff. Such improvements are likely to minimise cheating, and also improve detection when cheating occurs.

University Students

Tracey Bretag, Rowena Harper, Michael Burton, Cath Ellis, Philip Newton, Pearl Rozenberg, Sonia Saddiqui & Karen van Haeringen (2018): Contract cheating: a survey of Australian university students, Studies in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2018.1462788


Recent Australian media scandals suggest that university students are increasingly outsourcing their assessments to third parties – a behaviour known as ‘contract cheating’. This paper reports on findings from a large survey of students from eight Australian universities (n = 14,086) which sought to explore students’ experiences with and attitudes towards contract cheating, and the contextual factors that may influence this behaviour. A spectrum of seven outsourcing behaviours were investigated, and three significant variables were found to be associated with contract cheating: dissatisfaction with the teaching and learning environment, a perception that there are ‘lots of opportunities to cheat’, and speaking a Language Other than English (LOTE) at home. To minimise contract cheating, our evidence suggests that universities need to support the development of teaching and learning environments which nurture strong student–teacher relationships, reduce opportunities to cheat through curriculum and assessment design, and address the well-recognised language and learning needs of LOTE students.