A shabby minivan is parked near a tranquil building on a Beijing campus. Wang Lin is sitting in the vehicle wearing headphones with a mike. “D. B. A. D. C,” set after set of five-letter codes slip from his lips… All of a sudden, someone gives two warning knocks on the back door of the van. Wang drops his headphones and drives off quickly.
He’s one of the new breed of “gunners”, cheats who write essays and sit exams for others for cash.
Academic cheating has become a lucrative business with well-organized gangs. Meanwhile there are insufficient deterrents to tackle the problem.
Every year more than 10 million faculties, researchers, students and specialists require to publish academic papers, according to a survey conducted by Shen Yang, a professor at Wuhan University, in 2009. Shen’s team concluded that the market in research papers was worth more than 1 billion yuan.
“With virtually no investment and huge profits, the academic black market is becoming more lucrative,” said Zhang Qiang, a junior in a Beijing-based university.
He calls himself a “campus agent” and works on commission connecting student clients with professional essay writers.
Zhang’s domain is China University of Geosciences and Beijing University of Technology. He said proudly that more than 200 students from undergraduates to PhD students contacted him during the last six months.
The majority of them are old customers. With 15 to 20 percent commission, Zhang’s monthly “salary” easily exceeds 3,000 yuan during the graduation season.
“I guarantee you that on every campus in major cities, agents like me are in good company,” said Zhang.
Zhang connects students to writers like Li Jian, a graduate student in economics. The client needs to provide the title of the essay and the recommended reading list.
Li set up his own service on a major online shopping website where he charges between 3,000 and 5,000 yuan for papers on economics and finance. He is very busy these days.
“I have more than 10 assignments every day,” sad Li. “I have to outsource some essays to my friends.”
As an after sales service, many essay writers even offer a paper inspection service to secure quality and make sure their product passes the school’s anti-plagiarism system. The additional charge is from 200 to 500 yuan.
The text service does not end here. For the right price, one can get one’s paper published in academic periodicals.
When the 21st Century reporter called a cell phone number found on a flyer at China University of Political Science and Law, the man on the other end of the line refused to give his name, but he said: “We have the resources to have any paper published in some minor periodicals. I cannot tell you how, but we can.”
Zhang Xiaohong, a professor at Communication University of China, said: “Gunners and ghostwriters are poisoning the country’s research quality and China’s academic credibility.”
According to experts, the booming academic black market has been fuelled by several factors.
Yi Xiaojun, a researcher at Shaanxi Academy of Social Sciences, points out that too much importance is attached to graduate treatises, especially for some master programs.
The result is that cheats can get their degrees based on one piece of written work.
“The school should split its evaluation into many parts so that students have to devote themselves to study on a daily basis to get a certificate,” said Yi.
Chen Qianyi, of a legal consulting company in Shanghai, said that the lack of clear-cut regulations on paper trading is leaving academic fraud in a gray area while school regulations are too weak.
“No administration manages the situation,” said Chen. “We see many essay writing companies online with huge business, but we have no specific powers to regulate them.”