By Hugh Levinson
More and more students are plagiarising material - and buying essays online, a BBC investigation suggests.
The boss of a firm selling coursework to students has admitted that her work "belittles the whole education system".
Dorit Chomer runs one of several companies that trade in "off-the-peg" and custom-written academic work.
She told a BBC Radio 4 documentary she sells between 500 and 1,000 essays a week, mainly to overseas students studying in the UK.
Prices start at £50.
"I've got three systems working 24 hours a day," she said in an interview for a BBC Radio 4 documentary.
"It's all interactive so you can basically order anything online and while I'm sitting here talking to you, I'm making money."
Around 80% of the students using her service are from overseas, studying at institutions in the UK. She says they need "professional help" to compete with British students.
"I'm using my brain so they can sit in the bar and use whatever faculty they want to use," Dorit Chomer said.
"They don't want to study anyway, so basically if I wasn't there doing their work for them they'd probably be kicked off the course anyway and mummy and daddy wouldn't be very happy."
Most academic institutions are reporting growing problems with plagiarism.
Jude Carroll of Oxford Brookes University, who is an expert in plagiarism prevention, says an American study found 43% of students cutting and pasting material from the internet without attribution.
She suspects the proportion is similar in Britain.
And Steven Rose, an administrator at Queen Mary, University of London, says cases of serious plagiarism have doubled every year for the last three years.
Many universities have tried to tackle the problem by using software which detects work which has been copied from the web or from academic journals. However, as these sites proclaim, the software won't detect work that is custom-written for the student.
As is common in the industry, Ms Chomer's website warns students not to submit the work under their own name. However, she says she has no way to stop students from doing so.
An undercover reporter posing as a student phoned a rival firm, Elizabeth Hall Associates, to ask whether if she bought an essay, she could submit it as her own.
During the conversation, she was told: "Technically we ask you to sign a declaration that it's a model, and we expect you to customise it. But I can't see any reason why you can't be able just to hand it in to be honest."
When we contacted the company and asked for an official comment we were told the firm would not co-operate with the programme.
Such services are being used by British students to cheat. One student was recently expelled from a leading university after downloading his entire first-year coursework from an American website.
The BBC investigation also discovered that even if plagiarism is detected, some academic authorities can be reluctant to do anything about it.
One university lecturer, who asked to remain anonymous, described how he found that a student had cut and pasted virtually all 12,000 words of his MSc thesis from a variety of websites. He was given six months to resubmit the thesis.
The lecturer discovered that there was substantial plagiarism in the second version too.
Despite this, the examination board decided to pass the thesis, and the student was awarded his degree.
"It leaves me with a very uneasy feeling," the lecturer said.
He suspects that the institution turned a blind eye because it was worried about the consequences of failing too many students.
That could mean fewer applications, and hence financial problems.
A spokesperson for Universities UK, which represents university vice-chancellors, said: "Universities UK strongly disapproves of plagiarism. Plagiarism devalues the efforts of students who work hard to achieve their degrees.
"It also damages the student who commits plagiarism as they will not benefit from the research and learning experience."
"If the work in question was submitted for assessment for a degree, the penalty for cheating could be that the student is failed and not permitted to retake."
Universities and colleges can draw on an anti-plagiarism service set up by the funding bodies for higher education.
The service, run by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), enables lecturers to check for work copied from the internet and also identifies phrases and vocabulary which are untypical of the student submitting the work.
Brains for Sale was broadcast at 1100 on Friday 15 April on BBC Radio 4.