On the University of Nairobi campus, talent is on sale.
Signs advertise for researchers or online writers — code words for those writing essays for paying students at universities around the world.
One such writer is Aggrey Isoe, who has been in the business since 2010. As a freelancer, he can work wherever he wants. He gets his assignments through websites that post requests from students around the world.
Isoe said he's written assignments for undergrads, master's students — even the occasional Ph.D.
“The topics are broad — social sciences; the sciences, especially biology; law, business, marketing, psychology, sociology,” he said.
The work calls for a degree of creativity. Isoe once had to write a first-person experience for a student trying to get into a nursing program in California.
“Actually, you have to put yourself into his or her shoes and be creative," he said. "In fact, the client was from India [and] she had to give reasons why she had to leave all the schools in India to come to that particular institution.”
Writers can find assignments on certain. On one site registered in Kenya, a writer was being sought to turn out an undergraduate level essay in chemistry, eight pages long and due in 30 days. For that, the writer could earn a little over $90.
While the Kenyan students are doing nothing illegal in writing for pay, their clients are violating one of the first rules of academic integrity. Students caught using such a service would probably face serious consequences at most universities.
Pauline Chepkwony, a University of Nairobi graduate with an undergraduate degree in sociology and a master's degree in international affairs, is a former academic writer. She struggled with the ethics of doing this type of work.
“If you look at it from a moral or ethical perspective, it’s kind of ... it’s not right,” she said.
But she said the pay was good, and in the end the work helped her to be better at her own studies.
Writers in Kenya say the business is booming — a sign that clients abroad are increasingly outsourcing their work to talented students who are truly finding African solutions to Western problems.