For most people, essay writing becomes a thing of the past as soon as they step out of university and prepare themselves for the world of work.
But for others, the dissertation is just the beginning. That is because it has become increasingly easy to make money out of the very thing students spend three or four years paying to do at university: coursework.
The essay writing industry – where a third party writes tailor-made pieces of work for paying students – is thriving. And as the briefest of online searches will show, there are now swathes of companies offering to help struggling undergraduates with their work in return for cash.
Ethically, there have long been doubts over the practice. But financially, there are fewer concerns than ever.
All Answers Ltd, one of the biggest players in the essay-writing business, has grown 10pc year on year, it said, while the boss of one its rivals, Essay Writer, believes the industry is now worth around £100m.Both companies have been in existence since 2003, and both have experienced a continued increase in demand.
Dr Thomas Lancaster, a lecturer at Coventry University, has been investigating the use of essay writing services for a decade, and coined the term “contract cheating” to describe the practice of paying for work online and submitting it as your own.
“It is a booming business,” he says. “There are so many sites available and the number is growing all the time. And it is not just online sites – there are all kinds of offline mechanisms as well, such as adverts around universities, in newsagents’ windows or on noticeboards.
“They must be advertising, getting work in, having enough writers, paying them and still making a profit – so there is a lot of money going around in this chain.”