Contract Cheating Hits 15% – Will Be 20% By 2028?

As the latest study from Phil Newton shows, 15% of current students have paid a third party to complete their work for them.

Looking at survey results from over 50,000 students, dating back to 1978, Phil has shown a sharp and significant increase in the percentage of students who are contract cheating.

At the current rate of increase, the figure is rising by around 5% every 10 years. If nothing changes and the linear rate of increase continues, we could expect to see 20% of students contract cheating by 2028 (or 25% by 2038).

Speaking in Times Higher Education, Phil said:

To tackle the problem, we are going to have to have more conversations with staff and students about academic integrity and how to promote it and, clearly, we need legislation. As countries like [the Republic of] Ireland and the US legislate against it, the UK risks becoming the country where essay mills find it easy to do business.

It certainly is time to act. A whole range of measures are necessary, not just legislation, but also looking at the way students are taught and assessed to prepare them for the employment available to them today.

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.