Cheating on university essays has never been easier thanks to thousands of papers posted online, but anti-plagiarism software may catch the cheaters — unless they've hired a custom essay writer.
According to a survey by CBC News of 42 Canadian universities, more than 7,000 students were formally disciplined for academic cheating in 2011-12.
Plagiarism was the No. 1 offence, accounting for 50 per cent of the cases.
At least 56 Canadian universities use some form of anti-plagiarism software, but those programs may not detect a custom essay written by someone else for profit.
An essay writer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told CBC News that in the three years he has been writing custom essays, none of his clients has been caught.
“I’ve never had any problems,” he said. “There’s a loophole around this.”
He said he knows how to beat that system using an online library that he said is not connected to any anti-plagiarism software.
“From this source, you just change the words a little bit around and you just submit that,” he said.
Julia Christensen Hughes, dean of the College of Management and Economics at the University of Guelph, agrees that anti-plagiarism programs have their limitations.
“If a student submits their work, it compares that work to other previously submitted work, and so in that case plagiarism can be detected,” she said.
“But if it's an original piece of work just written by someone else, that's not going to show up.”
The essay writer said there is a huge market for his services, and finding clients is easy because there are always students with money who don’t want to do the work.
“These people don’t care about school and like to party,” he said. “They just want to graduate and that’s it.”
The writer said he produces essays for more than 100 students per year and makes almost $30,000 annually.
He added that he has clients who hire him to complete an entire course, which can mean 20 assignments and a few exams, at a cost of $3,000.
“If it’s a very hard assignment, I charge $500 per paper,” he said. “If it’s something easy, I’ll do $150. That’s my lowest price.”
Two of Manitoba’s largest universities, University of Manitoba and University of Winnipeg, don’t use any anti-plagiarism software.
Instructors at the University of Manitoba have argued that the institution should subscribe to an anti-plagiarism service because it would make it easier for them to detect plagiarized papers, said Brandy Usick, the university's director of student advocacy and accessibility.
But Usick said just having the software available wouldn't automatically make it easier.
“You still have to sift through the results and determine false positives," she said.
The software scans the paper and within 10 seconds, 400 billion websites, 200 million academic journals and 110 million university sources are checked against the paper in question.
A report called an “originality check” is generated and the professor will judge if the paper is plagiarized or not.
The University of Regina does use an anti-plagiarism program and its students are required to submit their papers to a server that links to a software account.
"Students now have to work harder to conceal plagiarism when it's going on," said Richard Kleer, the dean of arts at the University of Regina.
"They used to be lazy in the past, and we could surprise them. But now they know we're using it.”
But the custom essay writer said he could beat anti-plagiarism software and make a good living writing for students.
“This is one of the jobs where there is so much demand out there,” he said. “You can do whatever you want.”