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$5,000 a PAGE!

UWI cheats charged thousands in booming essay-writing services

Published:Monday | October 11, 2021 | 12:09 AM
UWI Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Hilary Beckles.
UWI Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Hilary Beckles.

Despite a vigorous defence of the academic integrity of The University of the West Indies (UWI) by its vice-chancellor, lecturers and students have said that the culture of cheating extends beyond examinations to essay-writing and other work. A...

Despite a vigorous defence of the academic integrity of The University of the West Indies (UWI) by its vice-chancellor, lecturers and students have said that the culture of cheating extends beyond examinations to essay-writing and other work.

A canvass of several academic staff and students has revealed that there is a well-organised underground market in which students are charged up to $5,000 per page for essays, with third-party writing services even being advertised openly on social media.

A graduate, who was a tutor in recent years, said that numerous persons have been approached by undergraduate and post-graduate students to write papers.

“That is a regular thing. I think the whole university knows about it. That is not new … . I have been approached, and I am not the only one. I know others who have actually done it,” said the former tutor, who requested anonymity because of the stigma surrounding academic cheating.

“People are willing to pay anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000 per page, depending on the level, undergrad or postgrad. This is a big business.”

In response to growing concerns about exam cheating across UWI campuses, including at Mona in Jamaica, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles categorically denied the problem was wide-scale, charging that anomalies represented less than one per cent of outcomes.

“These are highly offensive, inflammatory, and unprofessional allegations because they are not rooted in any factual evidence … . To argue that the university is a cheater and has widespread student cheating is untrue, unethical, and is an unwarranted assault on The UWI and must be rejected,” he said in a press statement issued on Saturday.

Beckles said that the university’s “systems for teaching and examination continue to be robust” .

An internal UWI report leaked to The Gleaner showed that irregularities ballooned as much as twentyfold, to 98, in semester one of the 2020-21 academic year compared to five two years prior.

The report cited “an unacceptably high amount of irregularities each semester” and that “cheating in tertiary exams is becoming an organised and lucrative industry with students paying third parties to complete assessments on their behalf”.

The reliance on online classes since the coronavirus pandemic is believed to have widened The UWI’s vulnerability to cheating.


A former graduate who owns a research consultancy firm that provides support to master’s and PhD candidates explained that companies like his are merely fulfilling a demand for writing services.

“It is a matter that you supply what is in demand. A lot of working students genuinely do not have the time to be bogged down with writing papers,” said the entrepreneur, who spoke with The Gleaner on condition of anonymity.

“You don’t even need to brand yourself as a research company. These are not a new phenomenon that anyone needs to create alarm about. These have existed from long ago,” he added.

A lecturer at Mona’s Faculty of Medical Sciences said that there has been an explosion in academic irregularities since the start of online testing.

“Sometimes you see where when you look, all the scores are the same or nearly the same. There are students, when you look at their prior grades in their coursework, it is just not consistent with how they perform as a student,” the lecturer said.

The lecturer also believes that these irregularities reflect the “scamming culture” in society and “a culture of cheating” that encourages students to beat the system.

Alarming anomalies have also been observed at The UWI’s St Augustine campus in Trinidad and Tobago.

Campus principal Professor Brian Copeland told Guardian Media that the problem of exam cheating worsened last year when students sat online exams.

A probe was launched when staff noticed a change in students’ performances for courses in professional fields such as medicine and engineering. In some instances, lecturers were able to identify cases where students had collaborated with each other and used learning materials.

The UWI is seeking to guard its recent 94-place jump in The Times Higher Education rankings, which have placed the regional institution among the top 1.5 per cent of 30,000 universities and elite research institutes globally.

Mona Guild of Students President Danielle Mullings agrees with Beckles that the irregularities cited in the report do not reflect widespread cheating among the student population.

Mullings believes that there is little evidence to justify the return to face-to-face exams.

She also shared that there is a “dissonance” between what the university authorities communicate behind closed doors and what is presented to the public.

In a letter dated October 8, 2021, addressed to the Guild president, campus registrar Dr Donovan Stanberry sought to clarify that no final decision had been made about face-to-face examinations.

Beckles has also expressed frustration with the approach taken by officers at The UWI, The Gleaner understands.

An attendee present at a meeting held last Friday between representatives of the various campus guilds and administrators reported that Beckles was “upset” with the apparently unilateral decision taken by campuses indicating a return to in-person exams.

“Beckles is saying that this should not be a decision based on Mona because it is a one-UWI stance, so he does not approve of this idea either, especially for one campus … .

“If it is not happening as a one-UWI thing, it should not happen at all,” said the source of Beckles’ position.