Online market for buying nursing degree essays bigger than ever, academics warn

Nursing Standard investigations find cheating a growing concern and dozens of websites offering ‘original’ coursework for sale. 

Nursing Standard investigations find cheating a growing concern and dozens of websites offering ‘original’ coursework for sale. 

Cases of nursing students cheating during their studies have increased in recent years. Picture: Getty

Plagiarism, or submitting unacknowledged work as your own, is by far the biggest reason nursing students face disciplinary action while on pre-registration nursing courses, according to an exclusive survey by Nursing Standard.

The 52 UK universities that returned data to Nursing Standard under the Freedom of Information Act recorded 2,752 cases of academic misconduct among nursing students over the past four academic years.

Of these, more than three quarters (79%) were cases of plagiarism.

Cheating among nursing students is of growing concern in academia, says plagiarism expert Thomas Lancaster: ‘It is not a brand new issue, but the scale of the problem has increased in recent years.’

High prevalence

Dr Lancaster, Coventry University school of computing principal lecturer, carries out research into ‘the essay mill’ – the companies and individuals selling essay-writing services to students.

‘The nursing websites particularly stand out to me. I have seen essays for sale on every subject you can name, but in terms of how prevalent this is, the scale is nowhere as near as high as in nursing.’

Nursing coursework can be purchased easily for as little as 99p online, with dozens of websites offering students bespoke essays from £8.99 per page.


The number of UK universities that returned data to Nursing Standard

In an online chat with a sales representative of a different essay provider site, a Nursing Standard reporter posing as a student was told that all essays were original.

Illegitimate channels 

‘We deliver 100% customised paper, written from scratch,’ the sales representative wrote.

‘And we will deliverd [sic] you the plagiarism report from Turnitin/rightcheck that will make you sure that your work is 100% non-plagairised.’

Dr Lancaster says: ‘The offer is blatant. Hopefully, the poor English would raise some red flags.

‘One concern is anti-plagiarism software such as Turnitin is only meant to be available through legitimate channels, such as universities. Perhaps they have either a lecturer or student with access and they are going through their account.’

Risking qualifications 

Although software such as Turnitin will not pick up ‘original’ work that has been bought by students, Dr Lancaster says universities should use it for all work.


The number of cases of academic misconduct recorded by universities among nursing students in the four academic years to 2016

‘If universities are not using any software, they are putting the value of the qualifications they award at risk, because there is no guarantee the work the student is handing in is original.’

A disclaimer on the website contacted by Nursing Standard states it ‘strictly condemns plagiarism in all shapes and form’ and adds that cheating in nursing papers puts public health at risk and should not be ‘practised’ by nursing students.

It states: ‘Any work...shall not be used by customers as their own under any circumstances.’

RCN head of education Anne Corrin says she has seen a rise in academic interest on plagiarism, and a recent healthcare education conference dedicated multiple sessions to the subject.

‘Great concern’

‘It was interesting because I have never seen a whole concurrent session on that topic. It is something that is of great concern to the nursing lecturer community,’ she says. 

‘There is a lot of research going on in this area around nursing students.

‘It is a problem we have to think about in nursing and we need to try to get across to students how significant and totally unacceptable it is.’

Ms Corrin says she feels universities need to do more to ensure nursing students understand what constitutes plagiarism.

‘All universities have plans and policies, but they are difficult to read and understand sometimes. Universities probably need to do more on that.’

Significant consequences 


The proportion of academic misconduct cases related to plagiarism 

Edinburgh Napier University recorded the highest number of disciplinary incidents among nursing students and others in health and social care over the past four academic years, with 363 cases.

But a spokesperson says the institution has a ‘robust’ system to detect plagiarism and almost all such cases arose from students copying other students’ work or sections of published work.

‘Very few students from the school use websites to have their written assignments completed for them,’ he says.

‘We highlight that using others to write assignments is a significant breach of the university’s academic regulations and the consequences of doing this and being caught would be significant. The students take heed of that.’

‘No place for cheats’

A Nursing and Midwifery Council spokesperson says it is the responsibility of academic institutions to ensure students have legitimately passed their course before they apply for registration.

‘There is no place for cheats in nursing and midwifery,’ the spokesperson says. 

‘Academic institutions must have systems in place to identify and swiftly address concerns about the conduct of any nursing or midwifery student, including cheating and plagiarism.’

Nursing and Midwifery Council guidelines

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) issues guidelines to students on professional conduct and highlights ‘good character’ and fitness to practise (FtP).

It warns nursing and midwifery students against:

  • Cheating in examinations, coursework, clinical assessment or record books.
  • Forging a mentor or tutor’s name or signature on clinical assessments or record book.
  • Passing off other people’s work as [one’s] own.

‘We expect education and clinical placement providers to include this guidance in the content of their pre-registration programmes, and to use it to determine a student’s fitness to practise,’ it adds.


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