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.