International students drive university cheating boom

By Leith van Onselen

For years a multitude of reports have emerged highlighting that the boom in international students is badly degrading Australia’s higher education system.

Several years ago, both Fairfax and the ABC reported that international student colleges had taken cash kickbacks in return for helping overseas workers and students win Australian visas using fake qualifications.

In a report entitled “Degrees of Deception”, Four Corners uncovered that cheating and plagiarism was rife across Australia’s universities, driven by international students.

Around the same time, a large-scale essay ghostwriting service targeting Chinese students made national headlines in 2014. Whistleblowing academics also accused their universities of contributing to systemic cheating by welcoming international students who are “functionally illiterate”.

In 2018, an ABC investigation “uncovered an abundance of international students who describe struggling to communicate effectively in English, participate in class, or complete assignments adequately”. Various academics, employers and education experts also told the ABC that “English language standards are often too low or can be sidestepped via loopholes, and that students are often put in stressful classroom situations that can lead to cheating”.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, a group of university academics admitted they are lowering teaching standards and passing failing international students in order to maintain the foreign student trade.

And recently, even the international student association called for greater regulation of overseas migration agents amid widespread cheating on English tests to gain access to Australian universities.

With this background in mind, the Morrison Government has threatened university cheaters with two years jail and/or big fines if re-elected. From The Guardian:

University cheaters risk two years in jail or hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines under a future Morrison government, the education minister, Dan Tehan, warned.

Under new legislation Tehan wants to introduce, “anyone who helps students cheat through their university exams or during the writing of essays will face stiff penalties”, including up to two years imprisonment and fines of up to $210,000.

Australian universities identified “contract cheating”, where students outsource university work and assessments, usually through overseas-based websites, as an emerging issue over the last few years, with a recent survey finding almost 70% of academics suspected their students were cheating or availing themselves of online cheating services.

“We will also take action to ensure that those online providers of cheating will be dealt with as well,” Tehan said. But the government jurisdiction only goes so far, meaning targeting overseas websites becomes less of a punitive exercise and more one of track and block.

This is all very well, but it is treating the symptom rather than the cause.

Underpinning the explosion of international student numbers and the erosion of education standards is Australia’s mass immigration system.

As noted in the recent book, Wage Crisis in Australia, “most international students… see themselves as involved in a project of ‘staggered’ or ‘multi-step’ migration, whereby they hope to leap from their present status into a more long-term visa status, ideally permanent residency”.

Indeed, the lobby group representing foreign students in Australia – the Council for International Students in Australia (CISA) – recently admitted to The AFR that many students come to Australia 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…

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.”

The reality is that Australia’s education system has become an integral part of the immigration industry – effectively a way for migrants to buy backdoor permanent residency to Australia.

For their part, Australia’s universities have become a card-carrying member of Australia’s ‘growth lobby’, since they reap the fees and profits that come from international students while the broader community wears the costs.

Australia’s university vice chancellors, in particular, are the biggest winners given their remuneration has exploded to an average of $1 million on the back of the international student wave.

The solution to the university cheating scandal requires treating the problem at its source, starting with removing the link between international 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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  1. > With this background in mind, the Morrison Government has threatened university cheaters with two years jail and/or big fines if re-elected.

    What a complete moron. JFC the stupidity makes the Marina trench look like a puddle.
    Pro tip, Genius; the internet can be *extremely* anonymous and it’s global. Good luck putting that smart guy in Brazil in jail.

  2. PassingInterest

    True dat. I deal with a prominent English language course provider to international students, who is very open about his business model being driven by the pathway to permanent residency. It’s made him a very rich man, in fact. He is a bit cagier about the lobbying networks he deals with to ensure this business driver is not taken away.

  3. It’s supposed to be an export industry – exporting the bounty of the Clever Country to the benighted natives of the region. Instead it’s an import industry, bringing in the trash that can’t make it into the good unis at home, the UK or the US, debauching our own educational standards and then adding to the catastrophe of our mass immigration experiment.

  4. What about wage cheating?

    Oh, that is ok.

    Foreigners buying houses illegally?

    That is ok.

    Medicare card rorting?

    Social credit score unaffected.

    Photos of dead people?

    That is untolerable now!

  5. This will do nothing to deal with the legitimized form of cheating – the group assignment, which often makes up a good proportion of the formal assessment. Just ensure there is at least one conscientious student per group who would rather crack and do all the work themselves before flunking the assignment because none of the others can be bothered (or are not capable).

    • GunnamattaMEMBER


      The group assignments IMO are a deliberate ploy to obscure the often very weak English of many foreign students.  I have been one of the Guys who got lumbered with doing all the writing and verifying numbers as two (in my case they were Indian) guys who did sweet FA strolled away with distinctions.

      Ultimately the ‘Western’ education system has been trashed, because this is not just an Australian issue.  The phenomena of foreign students with weak English skills passing courses is pervasive across the UK, US Canada and New Zealand educational spheres as well.  I am reliably informed in Australia it is cultivated into a high art form – and that in one recent case an elite University in Australia didn’t just discover someone who wasn’t doing their own work, they came across someone who walked into an exam, with a student card, sat the exam, and wasn’t the student on the student card. It is spectacularly prevalent in course areas where the subjects are ‘soft’ or where (such as an MBA) there is intrinsically no intellectual rigour/discipline in the course work and the course is about ‘networking’.  Students in most cases going into the courses will twig to that from the get go and seek to exploit it.

      The only way to deal with the issue is to sit students in a room isolated from electronic communications and internet and examine them the old fashioned way.  That is for subjects requiring essasy they get 2 or 3 hours and told to write to a subject and if they cant they fail.  For maths and economics type subjects they get the problems and they can either do them then and there or they cant, and if they cant they fail.  Group assessments, home exams, self exams, automated assessment of essays, and essays which cannot be fundamentally demonstrated as being an individual’s work – be it IP addresses, some form of citrix system, or quite literally getting students to hand write their work – should be discounted.

      The business model reliant upon ordinary people to either do the work of others or to go so far as to call out the inadequacy of others should be dismantled.

      • Both my children and my childrens friends siblings all report that they routinely throw away the foreign students contribution to the group assignments and re write them. Failing to do so inevitably leads to a lower mark.The usual complaints are no English skills and little to no engagement.

    • You have opened up a wound. Group assignments are effectively a dare. In my case I needed a distinction average for my Honours Degree. The other students were happy to do nothing and hope for a pass. No prizes for guessing who did all the work, and for who did nothing to receive a distinction. Ridiculous system.

  6. It’s been the same for years. We used to get hit up for assignments for the years I was studying. It’s probably more now given the %s are now much higher. Very good OS students never did are were model students and they were very well regarded. I can only speak for engineering as that was my area.

  7. Don’t worry, our universities are educating the “skilled migrants” that our economy needs. The fact that they are skilled at cheating means they’ll fit in perfectly

  8. My daughter is doing Science/Engineering & these “joint” projects are a total joke. Every single time there is am OS student they do SFA. Sham & fraud at its best. Uni’s in OZ are not exporters of anything they are importers & consume/plunder taxpayer resources. Total joke. And the next lot are going to open the floodgates for more positions at Uni, that is not going to help.

  9. haroldusMEMBER

    I was thinking about doing a masters this year, and decided not to enrol when I saw the amount of group work.

    Realistically, if you are already employed, you are not interested in group work.

    But it lead me to thinking, surely any institution advertising “NO group work” would be at a competitive advantage?

    • During the late 1990s/early2000s I did a MBA specialising in accounting from UNE via distance education. I then went on to get a CPA. However, I retired shortly thereafter and have never formally worked as an accountant, although over many years in the Commonealth Public Service I did use utilise accounting concepts in my work.

      I suppose there is scope for cheating on assignments, but there were no group assignments at UNE. You had to get through end of semester exams where most of the marks were obtained to pass a subject. I think Deakin Uni has/had a similar program via distance education.

      So if you are interested check out what you can do via distance education at the Unis and how courses are assessed.

      The only thing negative for me is that UNE was captured by some ratbag groups (feminists etc) and its ranking fell from mid tier when I attended down the bottom of the Uni sh-tpile.

  10. I haven’t been asked many questions by foreign students during lectures because they are largely vacant eyed slack jawed idiots who spend the class with their heads down noodling with their phones.

    The questions I have been asked by these fools generally relate to obtaining permanent residency and finding work without a security clearance.

    Our universities are not getting the best and brightest from overseas. And the few good ones who go into research largely appear to be spies.

    • The truth is, only selected few have sufficient intellect and potential that warrant admission to tertiary education, unless you are prepared lower the standard. It has always been the case and it will always be the case.

      In good old days, conscription would have kept unemployed youngsters off the streets. Since this is no longer politically viable, the most important role of unis is to keep youngsters off the streets.

      • Instead of paying the youth to do worthless “degrees”, just give them a one off $50k cheque when they turn 18. Some will blow it and some will use it wisely. Tradies need tools and $50k would pay for the lot.

        The ones who will blow it are blowing it now anyway by attending “uni”.

  11. It’s not just universities.The vocational training sector enrolling foreign students is just one long rort. Exams are open and required attendance minimal so the students can work several jobs in order to pay back (1) the loan they too out to make it appear that they had the funds to study in Australia and (2) pay a bodgy migration agent to get a a permanent residence visa.

  12. Mining BoganMEMBER

    I like the bit where now in Oz a humble bogan is better educated than the ‘educated’.

    Straya. Winning.

  13. If you’re lumbered into undertaking “group assessments” then simply hold them hostage.

    No $ = no passing grade.

    • Aha now the locals are finally getting educated to how new Straya works. This. Do it. And if when you get pulled up by the academic discipline committee go public big time

  14. tleuchtenMEMBER

    One thing I fail to grasp is the leap from university (student visa and 20h work) to 457 to PR to citizenship. This makes it sound in here as though you just go to university and somehow then get employed straight up with citizenship rights. Is the local employment of origin country individuals already this established that they can give 457s or PRs that easily away to non-Australians? And indeed, if that is the case, how is that breaking the rules?
    Anecdote: Twelve year double degree resident turned citizen who made a call on upcoming crisis and left the country individual that did find the visa progress not entirely ‘easy’. Then again, I was playing by the exploitation rules.