Aussie universities pivot to failing Indian international students

Yesterday, The Australian reported official data from the Department of Home Affairs showing that visa applications from Chinese students were flattening, forcing Australia’s universities to shift their focus to lower quality students from India and Nepal.

The economic activity arising from these three source countries is nicely encapsulated by the ABC below:

As shown above, international students from China, India and Nepal have each experienced explosive growth. However, there is a huge difference in the quality of these students.

Dr Bob Birrell from the Australian Population Research Institute (APRI) released a detailed study late last year showing that Chinese students tend to pay higher fees and study at higher quality Group of Eight (GoE) Universities, whereas Indian students typically study at cheaper institutions, often for the primary purpose of gaining access to employment and future permanent residency:

The first comprises universities charging very high fees – $40,000 or more a year by 2018. These are primarily the Group of 8 universities. Despite the princely cost, the number of overseas-student commencements at Go8 universities increased massively, by 56 per cent, between 2012 and 2016. Almost all of this increase came from Chinese students…

The second market covers universities other than those in the Go8, all of whom charge much lower (though still high) fees of around $25,000 per year. Overseas-student commencements in these universities increased by 41 per cent over the years 2012 to 2016. Most of this growth came from countries located in the Indian subcontinent, particularly India itself.

We show that the surge of enrolments in this second market has been largely due to the Australian government’s opening up of these opportunities in 2012 (pages 16-17). A key initiative was to allow all overseas student graduates (including those completing two-year Masters-by-Coursework degrees) to gain access to a work-study visa. This provides a minimum of two years in the Australian labour market after completion of a university degree, regardless of field of study.

Yet, despite Chinese students tending to pay more and attending higher quality Go8 universities, those that do stay and work in Australia perform poorly in the jobs market when compared against their Australian-born counterparts:

Chinese students who do stay on in Australia after graduation and enter the job market find it difficult to obtain employment at the professional or managerial levels. Employers expect their appointees to have complex problem solving, collaboration and communication skills. Many Chinese graduates lack these skills and thus struggle to compete with local graduates and with graduates from English-Speaking-Background (ESB) countries.

Data from the 2016 Census documents this point. Table 4 shows employment outcomes for young China-born males (aged 25-34) in Australia as of 2016, who arrived here between 2006 to 2016 and who held qualifications at degree level or above in Management and Commerce. Only 34.1 per cent were employed as managers or professionals. The outcome was similar for those with Engineering degrees, though a bit better for IT graduates.

Table 4 also indicates that a high proportion (some 31.4 per cent of those with management and commerce qualifications) were unemployed or not in the workforce. This is why we chose to focus on males. The high share of those not in the workforce category is unlikely to be explained by child care responsibilities.

True, it is not just a problem for the Chinese. Most graduates from non-English-speaking background (NESB) countries in business and commerce, engineering, and IT fields struggle to find professional level appointments in these fields. This is because there is a serious oversupply of entry-level candidates, relative to the available job openings.

So, if Chinese students tend to have low standards, what does this mean for our universities’ pivot towards students from India and Nepal?

Monday’s Four Corners special on Australia’s international student trade was especially damning of the quality of students coming from the Indian sub-continent, reporting widespread instances of plagiarism, academic misconduct, and students failing their courses.  The below email to colleagues from Murdoch University’s Professor Benjamin Reilly encapsulates the problems:

“In semester one 2018 we experienced a surge in new international students into some postgraduate courses. This surge increased sharply in semester two 2018, with several hundred new students, mostly from the Punjab region of India, enrolling in a small number of postgraduate courses.

“While some were OK, many do not have the language skills to study at a postgraduate level and have thus been unable to participate in class or complete assessments for the units legitimately.

“Hence we now have a much larger number of academic misconduct issues, supplementary assessments and outright failures than we have previously experienced in the units in which this cohort has enrolled”…

As does correspondence from Dr Duncan Farrow, a maths lecturer and academic misconduct investigator:

“Perhaps the most telling statistic of them all: 48 of the 80 students admitted to the MIT in semester one this year had at least one academic misconduct finding against them,” he wrote.

“Not only was there a huge increase in numbers of misconduct cases but additionally the investigations were more difficult due to the poor language capabilities of many of the students involved.

“I have just reviewed the results for students from the Punjab region in BSC100 Building Blocks for Science Students and it is depressing. Of the 52 students in this category, 12 have passed the unit outright — a pass rate of less than 25 per cent.

Inside Story’s economics correspondent, Tim Colebatch, similarly raised the alarm on the torrent of low quality Nepalese students inundating Australia’s universities:

…one source stands out: the little Himalayan country of Nepal, just thirty million people, living in one of Asia’s poorest countries.

In 2017–18, one in every 1500 inhabitants of Nepal emigrated to Australia. In an era of strict immigration controls, that is an astonishing number for two countries so far apart, with no common language, heritage or ethnicity.

Over the five years to mid 2018, one in every 500 Nepalis emigrated to Australia — and that’s in net terms, after deducting those who returned. In 2017–18, little Nepal became Australia’s third largest source of migrants after India and China…

Deregulation has allowed universities to selectively lower their standards to bring in more fee-paying foreign students, even when they fail to meet the thresholds for English language skills or academic achievement…

This is not the first time immigration from Nepal has surged. A decade ago, we saw a scam with training visas, in which “students” from India and Nepal came for training courses in Australia, then quickly vanished into the workforce. The scam saw net immigration set record levels in 2008–09, before then immigration minister Chris Evans shut it down. But most of those who came stayed on here.

At the current pace of immigration, Australia will soon have more residents born in Nepal than in Greece.

The aggressive growth in international students has already unambiguously lowered university standards, flooded Australia’s labour market with cheap exploitative labour, as well as helped crush-load Australia’s cities.

The situation is likely to worsen as Australia’s universities pivot to lower quality students from India and Nepal in a desperate attempt to keep the fees rolling in.

[email protected]

Leith van Onselen


  1. Our universities are failing on every level. As we discussed yesterday, they are now pumping out thousands of graduates with low quality qualifications for skills the nation doesn’t need and for which most of these kids have zero chance of getting a job with. At the same time loading these poor kids with big chunks of full recourse debt they pay regardless of outcome.

    These are massively subsidised institutions, the small cabals of executives that have turned them into their own wage generating machines should be unwound.

    Universities don’t have to be job making machines, but if they are for academic achievement then the fee structures, the debt-loading of kids and the nature of the degrees can be revised to turn them back to the national interest.

  2. Hate to say it, but only once we run out of fuel, water or money will this end. The populace is still too fat and happy for any real action to occur.

    Its also a shame that no young people (ie. <40) are standing up. Look at Europe, all over there are fresh new political parties pushing for action. Even on the right-wing here its oldies: Hanson, Dick Smith, Palmer, Bernardi. We need a handsome young successful guy to point out how bad things are.

    I think part of the problem is that things aren't that bad for the upper-classes… There is no terrorism, no mass sexual assaults (Cologne), no austerity. That same bloke could just work for a big corporate as a junior executive and earn $200k-$300k in corporate anonymity.

    • DominicMEMBER

      Young people are standing up — only for lunatic “progressive” views.

      The soy latte, avocado toast set

  3. So you need to pass an English test to get a PR, but not to get into Australian higher education institution?? What about foreign students entrance exams? Local kids have to pass HSC. Even some local high schools (selective and some private) have entrance exams, but uni-s don’t? I am sure industry onto this eroding quality of Australian higher education.

    • Yeah that’s a strange one…

      Probably some superstar migration agent that found a good niche.

  4. We have enough Chinese take away so more Indian and Nepalese curry houses will be a welcome change. They will fill the MCG for cricket matches and will generate more revenue for our cricket board.They will rent from the negatively geared landlords and will help prevent a property market collapse.There will be ample supply of cheap labour for our entrepreneurs so we can continue to buy pizzas for $5.So overall more positives than negatives!

  5. DominicMEMBER

    Won’t make a difference. nobody except Dominos will employ these people

    • That’s a bit harsh. I’m sure a percentage of them will make life even harder for locals trying to establish a good career or climb out of the ditch. And best of all, they’ll help all the visa workers and other immigrants put even more pressure on wages.

      • DominicMEMBER

        Yes, that’s probably true, but except where there genuinely IS a skill shortage I can’t see someone with inferior language skills and a diploma from an inferior educational establishment really presenting much competition in a field of multiple applicants.

        As a mate of mine once told me, he is biased toward hiring people from the private school network “because you know what you’re getting”. Same principle applies above. It’s totally harsh but people from overseas who wish to try their luck here cannot expect an easy ride even if progressives would love to make it so.

  6. Crazy and unsustainable for such a small country as Nepal with shrinking births and falling fertility currently just on replacement to allow such a large proportion of their 20 year olds to leave the country. Basically a short cut to Japanese demographics.

  7. JacksonMEMBER

    It’s pretty clear the sector needs a massive clean out. Did my postgrad in a Go8 uni, then was on staff for 10 years, and even when I left (9 years ago) the writing was on the wall – basically the primary reason I went into private industry. Marketing staff within each Faculty office, each Faculty with a GM, each GM with a PA – there is $300K p.a. minimum that was not going into the national interest, for each faculty. Decent postgrad student applications were getting harder to find, half-scholarships started to appear, extremely productive staff bringing in loads of money on short-term contracts.

    Was called back to a meeting last year with a potential benefactor, there were 3 “business development” staff in the room from the institution. Unbelievable. The degradation has been difficult for me to watch, the “good” academic staff are over-worked to an extreme level. Much of the decline in the culture has been coincident with the strategic mission of getting into the Global Top 50 rankings – a totally unrealistic goal.

    Kudos to Farrow et al at Murdoch for speaking out. This pressure needs to continue to be applied.

    • The trouble is, there is no way to reverse it other than totally rebuilding from scratch. The institutional knowledge of old times has long been lost. There will be a long period of vacuum after Strayans finally realize what had happened.

      • We’ll need to import higher quality academics from other OECD countries. It will cost a pretty penny.

  8. I am going to channel Jacob but we need to exempt foreign students from public transport discounts STAT.

    Taxpayers shouldn’t be giving these rorters and hand-outs – it is meant to be an export.

    • Via a new category of concession card.

      When I was in high school, I got a concession card that allowed me to travel for $4/day or whatever it was.

      Raise the base fare of a train ticket to $40/day and allow anyone who has AUS citizenship to get a new-category-concession-card that allows the cardholder to travel for $10/day. Foreigners can pay $40/day or “study” in Canada instead.