It should be an easy transaction. Pay £300, wait four days and get the VKs in, safe in the knowledge that some desperate down and out Oxbridge graduate has to tackle your next essay instead of you. But for many of the thousands of students who both use and write for Oxbridge Essays, things don’t quite work out the way they planned.

It’s a favourite game of national newspapers to periodically take shots at Oxbridge Essays whose unique brand of legal plagiarism has helped countless students to survive their degrees. But really every word published on the rights and wrongs of Oxbridge Essays generates the exact kind of publicity they want. Let’s face it; even this article is virtually one giant advert for the company (as opposed to the literal advert you can probably find to your right). So putting the ethics of it all to one side for a second, there’s an issue that no one seems to have addressed so far. Does Oxbridge Essays work?

One anonymous ex-writer is doubtful. “We had people coming into the office in tears, properly distraught” he tells me. The problem comes down to incentive. Despite the website’s alluring promise of earning up to £6,000 a month, the rewards for the average writer are far less appealing. With the tedium of writing other people’s essays, combined with earnings the equivalent of six or seven pounds an hour and the Faustian guilt of having sold your soul to the academic devil, no wonder quality starts to slip. So what can a short-changed student do if unhappy with their service?

Turns out not much. Though the company claims they’re happy to address quality issues, in most cases the gap between having an essay arrive and meeting a deadline simply doesn’t leave the time for a rewrite. And if a promised 2:1 piece of coursework comes back as a 2:2? Well since Oxbridge Essays explicitly state their essays are not to be handed in, complaining about a poor mark would mean admitting that you’ve broken their terms and conditions. While some students are sure to have positive experiences with the company, when things go wrong the price of dealing with the fallout is high.

One student complains about having found herself £1,250 out of pocket and having to retake a year of studies after being sent a sub-standard dissertation. Another is told their essay title is ‘too difficult’ to complete in time on the same day it is due to arrive. They have no support to fall back on, as what they’ve paid for are ‘model answers’ and not grades. It’s easy to take a dim view on the kind of people who end up in this kind of mess. After all none of the writers or users of the service have “any illusions” that essays written are handed in as original work. The service they provide is one that helps students cheat their way through a degree, however much the official line may say otherwise.

Cambridge calls it "a deliberate attempt to undermine the academic integrity of this university." Oxbridge Essays say it's about giving an ‘extra layer of support’ to students who just aren’t receiving it. While an ethically dubious business model and virtually no accountability to their customers do them no favours, it seems like they’re here to stay. And more importantly, it’s us they want to fuel their essay-writing army.

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