Online student essay services still thriving in Singapore

ILLUSTRATION: LEE CHEE CHEW

Despite warnings from schools, they offer to complete coursework if paid, with some promising at least B grade

An online black market offering bespoke essay writing services - often for hundreds of dollars - is continuing to thrive in Singapore, despite warnings from schools that students caught paying for their grades could be expelled.

Rates start at $100 for 1,000 words - excluding additional charges if it is a last-minute job - with some online advertisements guaranteeing students from polytechnics and universities here at least a B grade.

A Straits Times check found at least 30 users on online marketplaces like Carousell and Gumtree hawking such services, as well as three websites aimed at Singapore students, offering to complete assignments for a fee.

Some sellers appear to be based overseas, though most appear to be local students or working adults.

In addition to doing essays on subjects like business, healthcare, marketing and economics for polytechnic and university students, they say they can complete coursework for project work at the A levels.

Students can request revisions of essays, and are promised that the work will be plagiarism-free to avoid detection.

There are also posts offering to finish coursework for art at the N and O levels, and programming assignments for computer science.

A seller on Carousell claimed on his page that he has completed more than 1,000 essays in the past two years, with several reviewers on the page endorsing his work.

Sellers promise that the students' identities will be kept private and ask them to use dummy Carousell and e-mail accounts.

One student, who appeared to be from a degree or diploma programme under private school SIM Global Education (GE), said in a review that she had received 93 out of 100 marks for an "outsourced" essay, which was completed in a day.

Another student posted on Carousell, offering $150 for help with a business assignment from private school Kaplan Singapore.

A polytechnic graduate, who declined to be named, said she and two friends paid for essays in their design-based marketing and communications subjects. "We would get at least a B, which is quite good since design courses are hard," she said.

Assistant Professor Ryan Hong of the National University of Singapore's psychology department said students may resort to these services as they feel "overwhelmed by academic demands".

Others may be "not particularly interested in intrinsic learning and see getting a degree as something they need to do in order to pave the way for their future career".

Kaplan and SIM GE said a student who passes off another's work as his own can face penalties ranging from marks deduction to expulsion.

Mr Rhys Johnson, senior vice- president and provost of Kaplan Singapore, said it has processes to detect cheating. For example, a student who scores highly in coursework but gets a low exam mark will be flagged.

Teachers must also authenticate candidates' coursework before submission, said the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board.

However, cases of students getting others to do their assignments are hard to prove. SIM GE said it has not come across any.

One anonymous local essay service provider, in his 30s, said he ensures the content matches the required depth of knowledge for the students' grade level, and tells them to edit his work so it matches their style and level of understanding.

Each piece of work costs between $180 and $600, and he gets an average of about two inquiries a month. He does not think of his work as unethical, saying: "We only wish to ease the burden of schoolwork and not to help students pass one assignment after another, which would give some an unfair advantage."

Carousell said it has not received any feedback from schools about such services, and it will work with the authorities if it is required to.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 31, 2016, with the headline 'Online student essay services still thriving'. Print Edition | Subscribe