As the end of this semester draws near, many students are staying up late to finish their thesis paper before the deadline. But those who have slacked off might resort to ghostwriters.
It has become common for some college students to buy theses or scientific papers from online shops, such as Taobao. If you search for “ghostwriting academic papers”, a list of shops providing this service comes up.
Usually they display a price tag of 10 yuan for their services, but that’s certainly not the real fee. Shop owners ask potential customers about their specific needs and base their price on the word count and other requirements. An academic paper may cost between a few hundred yuan (for a short term paper) and tens of thousands of yuan (for long dissertations).
Senior student Chen Yihua (not his real name) from a university in Nanjing and his three roommates bought their theses from an online shop last month. In their opinion, ghostwriting is just one of the useful tools available to students who want better grades.
“I understand that students should be perfectly capable of producing quality work on our own,” said Chen, who is majoring in mathematics. “But students in scientific, mathematical and technological fields often lack solid writing skills. So sometimes we need ‘assistance’ in converting our ideas into academic texts.”
A PhD holder in Shanghai (who wished to remain anonymous) said he opened an online shop sellingthesis papers at the end of 2010. He is a full-time employee, but he can earn 10,000 to 20,000 yuan for writing one essay. The high profit is the driving force behind his business idea.
“I am just using my academic gift to help others in my spare time,” he said. “Thanks to real-estatedevelopers, I’m a house mortgage slave and I need money.”
However, Taobao’s customer service department claimed that providing such services is forbidden. The online platform punishes shops that violate the rules by reducing seller’s credit rating, preventing them from being searched or even shutting them down.
But some lawyers consider these services to operate in a gray area. “In terms of legality, online sites offering ghostwriting services could not be considered unlawful in China as long as the real author agrees to give the copyright to the client,” said Liu Chunquan at Shanghai Yongle Law Firm.
Education experts point out that this practice is unethical. Universities require students to write dissertations or papers independently, so employing someone else to write them is considered cheating.
“It is academic fraud. Graduates should be capable writers, no matter what they are majoring in. Remember that your dissertation should demonstrate not only how well you know your subject matter, but how effectively you can communicate your ideas through writing,” said Shen Yang, a deputy professor at Wuhan University.
“Academic writing is a skill that a university student must develop. Employing someone else’s service is an admission of failure.”
At present, however, it’s hard to discern if papers are self-produced or not. As a result, many teachers ask students to discuss their papers or prepare presentations based on them. If it transpires that ghostwriting is involved, students face serious punishment and can even be dismissed by their universities.