A burgeoning online market has emerged in Yemen with students offering their academic services to their wealthier Saudi counterparts. A group of students known as the "Helpers" have been selling their services to complete homework and assignments, and in some cases sitting online examinations.
According to a recent report in Open Democracy, the practice has been going on for years. However, it has become more prevalent during the Covid-19 pandemic which has largely forced education online since last March.
For the Yemeni students, this offers an income amid the Saudi-led war against their country. They have few employment prospects in one of the poorest countries in the Arab world.
"I was asked to solve a physics exercise on behalf of a Saudi student," explained a fourth-year student at the University of Sanaa. "This was my first paid assignment, for a sum of 50 Saudi riyals ($13). It was awarded full marks and I earned a good reputation as a provider of student services."
He was subsequently hired, via a friend, by students at Saudi Arabia's Jazan University to complete a number of homework assignments in English. Messaging and social networking apps such as Telegram and WhatsApp have proven popular for students to request and offer services.
"This is a well-known phenomenon in many countries," explained Mohammed Abd Al-Wahab, a Professor of Communication in the Media Department at Sanaa University and a former head of the Department of Journalism and Media at Jazan. "But it's more rampant amongst Gulf students given that they have access to money."
Requests are said to come not just from Saudi Arabia, but also from students in the UAE and Kuwait. Due to the notorious difficulty of their exams, though, they are seldom taken up despite the higher rates on offer.
The hostilities between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, especially in the capital which, along with most of the north, is currently under the administration of the Houthi-led government, has meant financial transfers have become more difficult in recent years. There are maximum limits on transfers, and a requirement to show the source of funds deposited. Some of the Yemeni "helpers" have resorted to asking relatives who live in Saudi Arabia to take receipt of payments in their own bank accounts, before transferring several payments in one lump sum.
The pandemic has also made the market more competitive. Before Covid-19, an estimated 70 students were offering their academic services, now a single online group can contain twenty thousand Yemeni students.