At least 200 students at Swiss universities submitted ghostwritten papers as their own work in 2015, according to a report that aired Wednesday on Swiss Public Television, SRF. The University of St Gallen has filed criminal charges.
Vice Rector Lukas Geschwend confirmed that the University of St Gallen had taken action. “Our criminal complaint is not directed at a specific person,” he told the Rundschau programme. “The St Gallen public prosecutor’s office will clarify who is involved, and to what extent.”
How many students do actually pay for someone else to do their coursework? According to Thomas Nemet, director of Zurich-based ACAD WRITE, his company received 480 requests for information about its ghostwriting services from Swiss students in 2015, and produced 200 ghostwritten papers for them.
The ACAD WRITE website shows a range of services offered, from polishing and proofreading to writing of everything from bachelor’s and master’s theses to PhD dissertations. They claim to produce “a tailor-made solution” that is “absolutely unique, as assured by a professional plagiarism check….”.
Ghostwriting per se is not illegal, but the University of St Gallen points out that its students have to declare that they have written their theses themselves, without outside assistance. In the case of a ghostwritten paper, they could be charged with forgery, which is a public offense.
According to Thomas Nemet, contracts for work performed by his company stipulate that the papers cannot be submitted by students as their own work. But the company’s website tells visitors: “All rights are given to the clients to use the produced content in whatever way they please.”
The cost of a ghostwritten paper can easily reach several thousand Swiss francs. Nemet’s company, which also has clients in Germany and Austria, made CHF3 million ($3 million) in revenues in 2015. ACAD WRITE employs 300 “verified academic experts” who produce ghostwritten papers for students.
Herbert Jost-Hof is a ghostwriter. He sees himself as providing an academic service.
But University of Geneva Professor Michelle Bergadaà, a European expert in plagiarism and ghostwriting, says that for universities to give degrees to students who pay someone else to write their theses is highly unfair to the students who do their own work.
“That’s theft,” she told SRF.
Bergadaà estimates that 10% of Swiss university students pay for someone to write all but the introduction, conclusion and acknowledgments of their papers, and 50% get some sort of help.
Swiss universities do too little against ghostwriting, Bergadaà says.
But according to the University of St Gallen, identifying papers produced by ghostwriters is much more difficult than identifying plagiarism.
“In recent years, there have not been any disciplinary proceedings involving ghostwriting because we are not aware of any cases in which ghostwritten work was submitted,” said the university in a statement.
Rather, to address the potential problem the university is communicating to its students that by using the services of a ghostwriter they risk disciplinary action, which can range from a written reprimand to being expelled from the university or having a degree revoked.
The University of Bern also confirmed on January 12 that it filed charges against ACAD WRITE several weeks earlier.
"The phenomenon of ghostwriting is against academic rules, and using ghostwritten material may be a criminal offence," the school's Communication Office told swissinfo.ch. "However, it proves to be difficult to detect ghostwritten academic work. A complaint may have a deterrent effect on the writers and a preventive one on the users."