THWE CYBER CHEATS; as Thousands of British Children Sat A-Levels This Week, Researchers Revealed Endemic Cheating. Here,we Expose How Impoverished Filipinos and Romanians Are Writing Essays for Them on the Internet at [Pounds Sterling]16 a Time .

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XENIA from the Philippines describes herself as a freelance writer and accomplished author.

A picture of her shows a pouting 22-year-old in a lurid pink jersey and dangly earrings, her long black tresses cascading over her shoulders.

She looks more like an escort girl than an academic, but Xenia has one great advantage: she's cheap. For a mere $30 ([pounds sterling]16.25) she is promising to write me an A-level essay on George Orwell's 1984, and if I send her an example of my work she will even write it in my style.

But Xenia is up against stiff competition, because since I placed an advert on an internet website, I have been deluged with messages from around the world from people offering to write my essay. Indeed, I've sparked a bidding war. Each would-be writer is attempting to undercut the other and turn in the completed work by the following day.

This is the latest internet cheating scam for A-level and degree students in Britain. No longer do they plagiarise prewritten material on the net; instead, they can pay someone to write the piece for them, in their own style.

The contract cheating trade is growing like a cancer. Between April and May this year, researchers at the University of Central England in Birmingham - who were monitoring just one cybercheat site - identified 236 requests from students for faked work, 102 of which were from British students from 46 universities.

Last month, they found 10 new sites which offer the same service behind the front of an apparently respectable business. In addition, there are now hundreds of sites that make no attempt to disguise what they are doing.

The figures uncovered by the university researchers suggest that thousands of students in Britain are resorting to this method of cheating.

Most sites go largely undetected as they are legitimately designed for small businesses that want help with software, translation or web design. But they are being increasingly used for supplying homework and assignments in a range of subjects.

In Britain alone, experts estimate that more than 30 per cent of assessed work in university social sciences departments contains somebody else's work.

As coursework has become a larger part of the final grade achieved in GCSE and college courses, so this kind of cheating has risen.

But amazingly, many of those who offer to do the work do not have English as their first language.

It's an indictment of how far standards have fallen in our schools and universities that such work could be considered suitable. But this week it was revealed that 15 million adults in Britain's working population would not scrape the lowest grade in maths GCSE, and another five million cannot read.

ONE exam board has ordered its history examiners to 'pretend that mistakes do not exist' when marking student papers.

Against this background of coursework assessment and falling standards, the chances of the cheats being caught have dropped.

Dr Thomas Lancaster, who identified the trend of the new internet cheating, insists the figures are the tip of the iceberg. 'Cheats are difficult to spot because some students are more skilled at disguising the work and passing it off as their own than they are at writing their own material,' he says.

'Cheating is not new, but contract cheating sites are, and they are springing up at an alarming rate.

This is the new form of plagiarism.

'These sites are creating a generation of fraudsters in education and thickos in the workplace.

'The sites are not illegal because they provide a genuine service, but what they are being used for is morally wrong.' All you have to do is call up a search engine - in my case Google - and type in some key words.

The site I find is based in America and appears to offer help with software and web design, but click on a box headed 'buyers' and you enter the world of cybercheating. …