How Australian unis game Australia’s visa system

By Leith van Onselen

Last month, the Victorian Government called for a review of entry requirements into Australian universities after growing evidence had emerged that foreign students with poor English language proficiency are badly eroding education standards and placing undue strain on lecturers and university staff.

This was immediately followed by academics admitting to Fairfax that they had lowered teaching standards and passed failing international students in order to maintain the foreign student trade.

The international student association also called for greater regulation of overseas migration agents amid widespread cheating on English tests to gain access to Australian universities.

Over the weekend, The Australian’s Judith Sloan argued that international students are a textbook case study of why Australia’s immigration system is out of control

In November last year, there were nearly 700,000 international students in the country… The number of international students has been rising strongly for some time. Over the five years ending in 2018, enrolments rose more than 77 per cent. As an uncapped program, with the granting of visas becoming easier over time, such growth surely deserves the “out of control” label…

We only have to take a look at the percentage of international student enrolments to total enrolments at certain universities to ­reinforce the point that the permitted pace of entry of international students is difficult to justify.

…the scope for international graduates to stay as a right for a period of time in Australia, a right not available to international students in the US and Britain, [is] important in driving a fair proportion of international student enrolments.

…the figure of $30 billion in export income is often trotted out — without recognising there are also costs associated with the uncontrolled flow of international students..

 Meanwhile, over at the Herald-Sun, Australian Population Research Institute (APRI) director, Dr Bob Birrell, argued that universities are “selling access to jobs and permanent residence to foreign ­students through courses meeting minimum standards”:

Dr Bob Birrell said some interstate universities with “shopfronts” in Melbourne were ­offering cheap business and IT courses that provided minimum accreditation for a skilled visa application…

Dr Birrell said students who finished their degrees here could then apply for another student visa, the 485 visa, allowing them to stay and work in Australia for two more years.

“It has little to do with the excellence of the education that’s offered here,” he said. “It seems to be effectively selling access to jobs and ­permanent residence.”

Home Affairs Department figures show Indians are the biggest applicants of the 485 student visa, with the number granted to them rising from 10,015 in 2016-17 to 14,026 last year.

Many Indian students afterwards apply for permanent residency, with more than 4000 given skilled independent visas onshore in 2016-17…

City of Wyndham councillor and Indian-born education provider Intaj Khan said… “The way the migration system is designed you can’t decouple it, and the interstate unis are running a franchise model to take advantage of it,” he said…

Is anyone surprised by this? Australia’s universities have morphed from “higher learning” to “higher earning”, as evidenced by the massive explosion in full fee-paying foreign students:

Australia’s education system has become an integral part of the immigration industry and the ‘Big Australia’ population ponzi – effectively a way for foreigners to buy backdoor permanent residency to Australia.

After all, the lobby group representing foreign students in Australia – the Council for International Students in Australia (CISA) – point blank admitted that students come here to migrate, not because of the quality of education on offer:

The Council for International Students in Australia said foreign potential students were attracted to Australia by the possibility of migrating here.

But Mr Dutton’s strong views on border policy and his statement that Australia should reduce its intake of migrants “where we believe it is in our national interest” would tip the balance for some would-be students…

The national president of CISA, Bijay Sapkota, said… “For people coming from low socio-economic backgrounds there has to be a value proposition. If they go home they will not get value. So there has to be a possibility of immigration.”

He said international students were not satisfied with the way Mr Dutton had run the immigration portfolio, where some visas were at risk of being closed down at any time…

It’s not like these concerns haven’t been raised before. Three recent Australian reports (here, here and here) have similarly raised the alarm about the flood of international students and the degradation of standards, but have been all but ignored and attacked by the rent-seeking Universities Australia.

Dr Cameron Murray – an economics lecturer at the University of Queensland – has also highlighted the problem in detail, which matches the academics’ experience above:

A thread on my experience:

1. 90% of students in my economics masters classes are international.
2. Half of them struggle with basic English
3. When I ask in tutorials why they are doing the degree, half tell me that they “need more points for their residency visa” (1/n)
4. They tell me they choose economics because they can do the maths but don’t need to understand anything or write anything.
5. I always set written essays or reports. Students tell me that they know other students are using paid ‘essay writing’ services to pass my class (2/n)
6. If half the class can’t understand English it brings down standards. It must—unless I fail half the class.
7. Think about the incentives—a casual lecturer who costs $25,000 fails 50 students paying $250,000. Change lecturer next year or reduce intake to keep standards? (3/n)
8. It is frustrating when top international students from foreign governments/central banks come to your class, then sit next to rich Chinese (almost always Chinese) who can’t understand a word and are there to buy a visa (4/n)
9. The evidence shows the effect on standards is real. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S027277571200028310
None of this is a secret. That research is from 2011. Here’s an article from 2014: https://www.smh.com.au/education/academics-accuse-universities-of-addiction-to-international-students-and-their-cheating-20141112-11lbdi.html
10. Unfortunately, this reality conflicts with the widely believed myth that our immigration program brings in “high skilled” workers.
11. 350,000 international students paying $25,000+ per year to study is $9billion being pumped through our top dozen universities. (6/n)
12. Halving the number of international students would keep all the good students, boost standards for all, and remove the visa scams.
13. But this would remove $4.5billion per year of revenue to the universities. (7/n)
14. In sum, universities are being degraded so they can be used as a back-door immigration program, and no one at the senior levels of universities or major political parties want to change it.
15. It is nearly career suicide for younger academics to say anything about it (8/8)

I forgot to add that almost every student I failed or called out for plagiarism got second and third chances until they passed. After the first chance it is taken out of my hands to higher ups at the faculty…

There is nothing new in this thread. did a big investigation a few years ago. Nothing changed AFAIK. People are just used to the new reality. https://economics.com.au/2015/04/17/universities-corruption-and-standards-its-not-just-academic-anymore/

More here: https://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/free-ride-past-language-barrier/news-story/9082a4d2234f019af2ddd1f68be73a8f  and here: https://economics.com.au/2011/03/16/are-we-going-easy-on-foreign-students-in-order-to-get-more-revenue/

The sad reality is that Australia’s universities are little more than giant rent-seeking businesses, just like the superannuation industry.

Rather than clipping the ticket on the deluge of funds coming in via compulsory superannuation, the universities sector instead clips the ticket on the deluge of foreign students arriving in the hope of transitioning to permanent residency.

Instead of focusing on providing a high quality education and upskilling Australia’s population, the universities sector has become focussed on pushing through as many students as possible in order to maximise fees and profit. Again, this has parallels to the superannuation industry, whose focus is on maximising funds under management and fees, rather than achieving strong returns for members.

The end result has been the dumbing-down of standards and too many university graduates chasing too few professional jobs.

The main beneficiaries from Australia’s rent-seeking university system are the vice-chancellors, whose pay has exploded to an average of $1 million on the back of the student flood, at the same time as university students are stuck paying off expensive and increasingly worthless degrees, taxpayers are stuck writing-off unpayable debts, and the broader population is suffering under the never-ending population crush.

Policymakers must put a leash on the university sector, starting with removing the link between foreign students studying at university and gaining work visas and permanent residency. Let Australia’s universities compete on quality and value alone, not as a pathway to backdoor migration.

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Leith van Onselen

Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. Leith has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.

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Comments

  1. Policymakers won’t do sh!t because it adds to GDP. Just like they let hundreds of thousands of uber drivers and 711 clerks in because it adds to GDP. Just like they cheered stupid housing bubble because it adds to GDP. Like they cheer on the gas gouge because it adds to GDP. If you expect them to make policy for the benefit of Australians, you will be sorely dissapointed.

  2. It’s not so much real universities gaming the system (they accpunt for 20% of all foreign “studnets”), it’s private for profit pty llc companies employing not more than few visa bureaucrats who charge foreign labourers 10k for student visa per year

    • Lenny Hayes for PMMEMBER

      This is absolutely spot on.

      Unis have some work to do in improving their vetting and entry standards (which they seem to want to do), but there is a whole other segment out there which is effectively migration dressed as education. They have zero interest in applying standards as that would be the end of their business model.

      MB has the right theme but focussing on the wrong players here.

      • I agree The so called ‘bodgy colleges” have been operating since 2007. They could be closed down in Victoria if the VRQA wanted to but I suspect Victoria wants high numbers of immigrants to keep the economy and their re-election prospects alive.

    • Yes, the post-graduate “education” industry for international students is a HUGE money spinner. Purely sales-driven business model offering English language and Australian Business Culture courses and Professional Year Internship programs to international graduates mainly in accounting and IT. Some of the courses (particularly Professional year) cost $10K per student.

      And of course, the courses contribute to IELTS points for PR.

  3. DefinitelyNotTheHorribleScottMorrisonPM

    You’re worrying about nothing. Standards have to be very low so the Aussies can pass anyway.

  4. The university sector has been captured by spiv business interests. The chancellor of UNSW is also the chairman of ANZ bank. UNSW is on track to become a university of 100k students overwhelmingly international and is the original sinner in the scam international student industry.

  5. For me the interesting question is not
    Are median student standards falling? because any expansion sort of guarantees this outcome
    Rather it’s
    Are our top 25% more or less skilled than the similar cohort from prior years?

    I know when I was still in business we only considered applicants with GPA’s of over 3.8 from top 10 schools.
    So what was happening to the education standards at the other end of their graduating class was of little concern to us we just didn’t interview them and certainly didn’t employ them.
    I’m sure I’ll get accused of elitist educational snobbery but the truth is that we had a business to run and it just ran smother if we maintained our quality standards for graduate selection. I know for a fact that many leading design companies have similar pre-sort methods, so with that in mind is the standard of our top quartile adversely affected by the clearly diminished capabilities of the bottom quartile?
    Statistically there a very clear bifucation with distinct and normal distributions applying to the two distinct groups…why should this present a problem for any potential employer to sort the candidates you just need to understand what the pdf distribution / shape is telling you about the groups because the information is there for all to see.

    • No doubt the professional licensing boards will also be under pressure to let through international student graduates. Aren’t you concerned about incompetent professional people or ones with poor English out in the community?

      • Yeah I guess so, but to be honest those that fail to make the grade typically don’t stay in the industry.
        They can’t get a job anywhere so they end up driving taxis or doing whatever.
        I guess there’s a small number that maintain professional certification to profit from this but that’s more a problem of seen in the Civil and Structural engineering areas where to be honest I have no experience.
        To bring this back to the economics graduates I’m certain these under-performers do not get tapped on the shoulder to apply for jobs at the RBA or Treasury or any of the Big4 banks, same invisible hand sorting the wheat from the chaff…..
        If anything the certification process is the enemy in this respect.

  6. It’s now time for a parliamentary enquiry into our totally broken immigration system. (Along with just about every aspect of Australian policy)

  7. $30b foreign student revenue minus this amount paid back to home countries in remittances, minus reduction in education standards and amenity for locals, minus reduction in pay rates for locals given working students, minus increase in unemployment rates for locals and associated welfare costs, minus infrastructure costs, equals a loss for the Australian economy and locals.