India is the world’s favourite back office. While the most common forms of outsourcing to India relate to IT or call centres, there are also people who work on foreign students’ college assignments for a fee. Such writers offer their services via social media, online platforms for freelancers, or even run businesses that take on college assignments. It’s sometimes referred to as “contract cheating” and is hotly debated, even banned, by some universities and countries.
In India though, no law expressly prohibits companies from running such businesses. Below, Suneet Kumar Singh, 35, talks about his business of doing assignments for college students halfway across the world, tackling bizarre requests, and the ethics of it all.
I’d teach students and help them with their assignments back when I was pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English at India’s Lucknow University. My hometown is Lucknow in northern India. Being a small city, it didn’t offer much in terms of job opportunities and so, I was always on the lookout for ways to make money. I helped people write their résumés and job applications.
I finished my course in 2009 and continued my studies in business management by taking a student loan. That masters course ended in 2011 but due to the global financial crisis, the job market was very dull. I had to figure out alternative ways to survive and pay off my loan. So I started working as a freelance writer.
In 2011, I started a content management company in Delhi. Through both my company and my job as a freelance writer, I worked with leading brands and start-ups, and helped them with content marketing and digital marketing.
Our assignment writing business kicked off in 2016 when Indian students who wanted to study in colleges abroad started contacting us for their Statements of Purpose (SOP) and college application essays. Those who got their letters of acceptance and visas through our SOPs continued to approach us to write their assignments. So we focused on this service and began promoting it.
Today, I have a team of 18 writers who are experts in about 20 to 25 subjects like business management, literature and law. We don’t tackle subjects we are unfamiliar with. For instance, we don’t do assignments on technical stuff like Java and coding. Medicine is quite complex and we don’t have a medical writer, so we don’t accept assignments on that either.
When we get a request from a student, we generally ask them for a detailed brief. We also ask them to send across files and study material like videos or presentations that their professor shared. Some are easy while others are difficult, but our writers keep themselves updated by reading books and articles on their fields. As a literature and business management student, I find it easier to work on those topics.
We turn in 15 to 20 assignments a day. Based on those numbers, we’ve probably completed anywhere between 20,000 to 30,000 assignments in the last five years – with around 75 percent of them done from scratch. The rest share a draft of the assignment that we edit. As a business secret, I cannot elaborate on pricing, but it varies widely from Rs 1 to Rs 5 ($0.014 to $0.069) per word.
Students either give us one assignment to work on and then disappear, or work with us for years by sending three to four assignments every month until the end of their degree course. Topics are very diverse. I have written papers on globalisation, gender equality, and other common issues. We have also created blogs, apps and websites as a part of many students’ assignments.
Most of our clients are students who work part-time and are unable to juggle both studies and work, and the rest just want to pass and get a degree. We get students from Ivy League colleges as well. We don’t judge students or try to gauge their merit; we don’t look into their past scores either.
Almost 95 percent of the assignments we have done so far were for non-native students studying in colleges and universities based in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. We have also worked with students from Japan, China, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Africa and Russia.
We used to get many queries from local students in western countries – American, British, Canadian students – but these declined around 2014 as many fraud companies entered the business and students lost their money and marks. So, these students started hiring local assignment writing companies, many of which are run by Indians. These agencies, in turn, gradually started outsourcing the work to India and other parts of Asia to operate at a cheaper cost. By 2017, we started working on these students’ assignments as well.
While working on an assignment, numbers are not exchanged — we all interact over Google Meet or through official emails. We do get many bizarre requests and experience strange incidents. A student once asked us to log in and take his online exams. A few others requested for us to send in answers while they were taking their exam. We refused. That was just something we were uncomfortable doing.
A few students have also tried to outsmart us.
Some who hired us to do their assignments started forwarding their classmates’ requests but kept part of the profits for themselves. Others have requested to change the topic of the assignment, claiming that their professor didn’t approve it, but ended up using both assignments — one for themselves and the other one for their friend.
We stopped taking such requests. A few others have forwarded their professors’ emails asking for certain changes to be made to the assignment, pushing us to deliver the edited copy on the same day. When we were unable to do so, they insisted on a refund. A few have also flat-out refused to pay the amount they owed us.
Some students have also tried to negotiate prices with our employees from the sales or operations team by flirting with them — they’ve flattered and complimented them on their voice and asked for their personal numbers, Facebook and Instagram handles.
Many times, especially in the case of Indian students studying abroad, parents get in touch with us to get their kids’ assignments, and even exam papers, done.
With time and experience, we have learnt to fit ourselves in the shoes of the student. At the graduate and master’s level, where assignments are mostly in the form of PowerPoint presentations, reports and data, I guess professors hardly pay attention to the writing style. Sometimes they can gauge the capability of the student and as a result, find out who has been outsourcing their homework. In such cases, clients ask for a refund, which we agree to.
Business has increased during the pandemic — students are either unable to attend their online classes or don’t take them seriously, so they can’t accomplish their assignments.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with getting help from experts to complete assignments. Also, every business is unethical in some sense; advertisements, for instance, are unethical as they mostly play on one’s fear and emotions.
Didn’t you ever ask your family or friends to help you with homework? Every second person takes help, be it for free or for a fee.
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