All in! Regularising ethnic presence in the curriculum

Reflections: The 'essay mills' of Kenya

All in! project team member Dr Helen McCabe considers how the the growing market of paid-for essays ghost-written by graduates in Kenya has echoes of colonialism:

Universities (and college, and schools) in the UK are increasingly concerned about student’s cheating by use of so-called ‘essay mills’. This report by BBC Kenya shows that many people writing essays for UK students are based in Kenya. The money they earn is better than in other available jobs, and they can’t get the better-paid jobs their degrees should grant them access to, because of a shortage of opportunities.

This phenomenon is something which ought to be considered in attempts by HE providers to decolonise their curricula, and their institutions. This might initially seem a stretch – isn’t this just the global market at play? Cheating might be bad, but it isn’t connected to colonialism, is it?

Colonialism involved (among other things) the extraction of precious resources from countries in the Global South for the benefit of people in the Global North in such a way that countries in the Global South were rendered unable to make use of, and benefit from, their resources themselves. Paying for essays written by Kenyan graduates mirrors some of these same problems: students in the Global North are benefitting from the intellectual resources of people in the Global South; the degrees students in the Global North receive – but which are earned by these Kenyan’s work – are generally more valuable in the global jobs market than degrees from universities in the Global South, giving them even further advantages in the future;  Kenyan students are doing work of an acceptable standard for universities in the Global North, which they are often excluded from because of immigration regulations, costs, and having less-prestigious qualifications, but are not getting the credit; and though these individual Kenyans are getting paid what they see as relatively good money, Kenya is not really benefitting from its graduate population, who are spending their time writing essays for students outside the country, thus exacerbating its existing employment problems.

Of course, it is important to say these issues reflect, or share similarities to, the problems of colonialism in the past, rather than risk diminishing the problems of historical colonialism by calling them colonialism. But this use of Kenyan resources (labour, time, intellectual capacity etc.) does serve to reinforce, and exploit, existing global power imbalances caused by colonialism.

Decolonising our curriculum in the UK is a complex process, and it takes much more than simply considering diversification of reading lists. This recent report from BBC Kenya shows we should make sure we are also considering essay mills and cheating when we think seriously about decolonisation in HE.



Posted on Thursday 24th October 2019

All in! Regularising ethnic presence in the curriculum

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

telephone: +44 (0)115 84 68165