A peer is set to table a bill which could see essay mills banned in Britain amid fears students are cheating their way into jobs.
Lord Michael Storey, 71, told the Mirror he plans to present his proposal after Parliament returns today.
The Liberal Democrat will push to make it illegal to provide or advertise contract cheating services.
His announcement comes as it is reported the Government is looking “favourably” on introducing legislation.
It is feared that essay mills – where students pay for their work to be done for them – are affecting the quality of degrees in Britain.
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Lord Storey, who previously submitted a similar private members’ bill, said: “It’s a growing issue.
“The bill will simply say that essay mills and contract cheating services should be made illegal.
“It’s been a cash cow for these companies, particularly during Covid.
“If you are a student sat at home and you haven’t got access to your university campus, or your university library, or just speaking directly with your tutors or lecturers, it becomes a real struggle.
“I’ve had students contact me with mental health issues, saying: ‘How am I going to get this piece of work done?’.
“You then turn to essay mills, or turn to someone writing your essay for you.”
Lord Storey has lobbied on the issue for years and has been consulted by officials before.
But he has now decided to spearhead the movement himself – and hopes the Government adopts his bill to make it law.
More than 100 universities in Britain have already signed an “integrity charter” aimed at tackling academic misconduct.
But it is thought that legislation which criminalises cheating could be needed to root out plagiarism.
Lord Storey continued: “As it becomes increasingly more widespread, it then puts into question the academic integrity of universities.
“So how do we know that somebody who has got a doctorate at such-and-such university, if it’s a valid doctorate – if people have been cheating?
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“How do we know at a particular university that if somebody has got a degree in science, that they haven’t got that degree through cheating?
“If they have got it through cheating, it puts in question the academic credibility of that university – so it’s an issue for universities too.
“It’s not fair on the students who work incredibly, incredibly hard, and the vast majority of students get their degrees through blood, sweat and tears – and it also, potentially, puts people in danger.
“If you’ve got nurses, for example, or, dare I say it, doctors who have got qualifications through cheating, then it potentially puts peoples’ lives at risk.
“If you have got people working in important jobs and they haven’t got the qualifications, that creates real problems.”
Tory MP Chris Skidmore tabled a bill similar to Lord Storey’s in February, which was aimed at tackling contract cheating.
He cited data from the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education that shows essay mill services are on the rise in Britain, from 635 in June 2018 to at least 932 sites as of February 2021.
Mr Skidmore said: “Their increased presence is even boasted of on a website, www.uktopwriters.com, which provides a ‘compare the market’ service.”
Lord Storey said he had not spoken to the MP but added that having two bills in contention showed the importance of the issue.
According to the Telegraph, ministers have said they would be willing to back a private members’ bill which outlaws plagiarism and punishes those who profit from it.
The Department for Education has convened an expert group which will advise on how best to tackle the issue, including legislative options, the paper said.
“The Government is looking favourably on introducing legislation,” a source is reported to have said. “They are taking this seriously.”