International student’s “clenching and corrupting hold” on universities

By Binoy Kampmark, lecturer at RMIT University

There are no protests on the streets and no effigies of university officials being burned by protesting students today. There are no protests outside the officers of the over-remunerated Vice Chancellors and their various henchpersons. It is business and malpractice as usual after revelations by Australia’s national broadcaster that Australian universities have been adjusting admission requirements to boost student numbers. Standards have been cooked, if not waived altogether, on the issue of English proficiency. Student bodies are the university equivalent of lebensraum: the expansive steppes of the Asian student market, to be exploited and leeched.

Since Australian universities first started entering the foreign market of education in 1986, a dependency on international students has taken a clenching, and corrupting hold. Such students mean one thing: revenue. Between 1988 and 2014, the number of international students at Australian universities climbed 13-fold.

Issues such as fudging results on language proficiency, false documents and online sites plump with ready-made material for submission, have proliferated. But these instances enabled universities to play dumb: they were the ones facing unscrupulous students desperate to get an Australian minted education. Universities could still claim that they, somehow or rather, were maintaining appropriate standards of admission, whatever those sly applicants might be up to. A few might get through, but they would be found out and weeded into oblivion.

This façade has been comprehensively holed in recent years, and the brackish water is making its way through the system. Universities, hungry and operating like famine stricken urchins, have been seeking more students than ever. In 2015, the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) raked through the university system in that state, finding what it modestly called “corruption risks”. To “intertwine compliance and profit rather than separating them, and to reward profit over compliance, can be conducive to questionable and corrupt behaviour.” ICAC is almost sympathetic to the insidious behaviour of university apparatchiks: “Students may be struggling to pass, but universities cannot afford to fail them.” Wither standards!

The recommendations by ICAC were hardly upending in nature, going to, amongst other things, limiting the number of overseas agents with which universities are engaged in; divorcing the issue of compliance from the issue of development “where feasible, which may include moving the admission functions out of international student offices that are responsible for marketing and recruitment”; and “considering the full costs associated with international students of different capabilities when making marketing decisions”.

As with other overgrown and self-serving bureaucracies, the modern university resists with a fanatic’s zeal, always happy to doff the cap to such suggestions while happy to expand, and in some cases refine, the abuse. Which brings us to the Four Corner’s Report.

The picture painted is bleak for those believing in academic standards. Since 2016, the Federal Government made a cardinal error: granting universities greater scope in determining the credibility of applications from students from certain countries, notably in such areas as English proficiency. This was the equivalent of giving a bellicose military full scope and decision in making war, removing any civilian controls.

Education departments were cut out of the picture; universities were granted full dispensation to waive standards deemed unnecessary or onerous for the applicant. Given the value of the education industry – $34 billion per annum – and a reduction in federal funding – this was a license to manipulate and omit. Approvals from universities, submitted in visa applications, have ensured a smooth, and rapid approval process. Andrew Durston, former employee of the Immigration Department, was adamant that the practice was yielding unsatisfactory, and spoiled fruit. “I think there’s evidence to show that there are students who are being granted visas who haven’t actually undertaken an English language test.”

The practice of accepting “medium of instruction” (MOI) letters for postgraduate students from India and Nepal, for instance, stating that students have previously studied in English, has also caught the eye of the Home Affairs Department. Such a letter would “not meet the legislative requirements” as evidence for a visa application.

This is an act of mutual harm. It denies the student a worthy assessment while also prostituting the application and any requisite standards of offered courses. What matters is the issue of cash funnelled into corporations that, for the most part, have ceased achieving their public purpose. They have become ungainly, mismanaged amalgams run by individuals who refrain from performing those dirty tasks of researching and teaching, preferring the cocktail circuit, spreadsheets and boardrooms.

University commissars have come out to deny the existence of any problem. The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency sees “little evidence to suggest there is a systemic failure regarding compliance with English language requirements.” Professor Margaret Gardner, Chair of Universities Australia, has access to “overall statistics” revealing that, “international students… pass successfully at about the same rate as domestic students.” It has been years since the good professor taught a class let alone graded a paper; ignorance is such merry bliss.

There was one exception, if only a minor one. The University of Tasmania was sufficiently alarmed by Monday’s program to consider a review, despite its Vice Chancellor Rufus Black suggesting how much the institution “intrinsically” cared about “international students”. (Abusers always feign a degree of necessary caring.) UTAS had featured in the investigation in a rather damning fashion: a staff member had sent an email outlining the money lust of a recruitment drive. “As a part of our last-mile efforts to encourage acceptances for July 2018, the university will be waiving the English condition in order to assist the students who have yet to meet their English conditions.” The true spirit of a standard-free recruitment drive.

When universities speak of an independent external review, both words tend to be suspect. Pick your investigator, pick your result. Importantly, pick a person of like mind and background to eliminate room for error and space for disruption. In this case, the individual selected by the task of examining admission practices in UTAS is Hilary Winchester, director and principal of a company bearing her name, an expert, we are told in “higher education quality assurance”.

Combing through the exploits of Winchester reveals a pedigree that is bound to resist revolt and revolution; brooms and mops will be kept at home. She is, after all, one of them, greasing the ranks and attaining the appropriate position in the managerial strata of higher education: formerly Pro-Vice Chancellor (Academic) at Flinders University and Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic and Research) at Central Queensland University. As universities have been seized by such very types, Vice Chancellor Black and his PVC guards should have little to concern themselves about. Assurances, if lacking in quality, are guaranteed.

This article was first published on Online Opinion. It has been republished under the Creative Commons licence. 


  1. We are fortunate indeed that Binoy Kampmark’s has thrown down the gauntlet and decided to stand up for academic integrity – because the VCs and administrators have long since abandoned it.

    “As with other overgrown and self-serving bureaucracies, the modern university resists with a fanatic’s zeal, always happy to doff the cap to such suggestions while happy to expand, and in some cases refine, the abuse.”

    And that’s because the managerialism that comes with the inflated VC salary and neoliberal ideology rewards bad behaviour. In fact, it depends upon it. It is the same game plan that uses the same codes as other privatised shams: “cut red tape” (deregulate and drive down standards) and “incentivise” (bribe or threaten with the sack). It has become part of the centralised command and control mechanism (“boards and CEOs”) who find “hidden value” (money made running down a public asset) to “market” (lie, cheat and deceive) “education products” (the equivalent of fast food education).

    This is serious corruption in the same model that led to the deregulation of lending standards. It is the ‘tertiary education bubble’. It is far worse than a finance bubble as it threatens the very standing of Australian tertiary education for domestic and foreign students alike. This is a leading indicator for how nations and civilisations fall because this is an essential public institution that forms our future generation’s and independence of thought. Find one first rate university in a third rate country. The corruption index tends to track poxy tertiary education.

    The barbarians are no longer at the gates – they are inside our universities and running them; the LNP and ALP let them in. Ironically, our student bodies have tied themselves in so many knots about PC trivia that they are paralysed and unable to act. Because it would be racist to complain that the model of the overseas education bonanza has degraded the tertiary sector and turned it into an industry with as much credibility and humanity as the live cattle trade.

    “There are no protests on the streets and no effigies of university officials being burned by protesting students today. There are no protests outside the officers of the over-remunerated Vice Chancellors and their various henchpersons.”

    That’s right. It has been a silent, bipartisan coup that has relied upon a distracted population and a nation fixated on identity politics and greed to permit.

    Remember Baby Boomers and GenX-ers, you are paying fees for your kids and grandkids to attend the chicken battery equivalent of a university system that you got for free.

    The fuse on the Australian greed bomb has been lit.

    • Time for the formation of a Local Student Association that has lobbying clout (that’s focused on improving standards and not being one big SJW platform), in the same way that International Student groups lobby.

      • Chase, it would be taken over by SJWs (and foreign students defending their “right” to study here) almost immediately, I can guarantee it. Why? Because it’s rare for anyone studying the truly challenging courses (STEM, Medicine & Nursing) to have time for student politics. It’s the Arts/Humanities and Business faculty students that have both the time and inclination to get into student politics, and a bigger bunch of useful idiots you’ll never find. They’d be arguing that “Anglophone privilege” is just one of the problems with Australia.

  2. Q: Why corruption exists in corrupt countries?

    A: Because plebes love to part from additional fruits of labour when dealing with a system
    B: because plebes are prone corrupting officials and they simply balk in under enormous pressure
    C: because there are additional costs that officials cannot recover in any other way

    Z: because officials simply create artificial obstacles and request bribery to make these obstacles go away.

    Blaming students for anything more than using the easier avenues set by the Unis themselves is at best a malicious attempt to divert focus from the root cause of the academic corruption.

  3. Based on my industry observation, this English proficiency problem is just a problem on the surface which is only happened in less sophisticated universities. The more sophisticated ones in Sydney (maybe in other cities too but I don’t know for sure) have taken advantages of these international students with lacking English skills as another income stream. First, they assessed them as not having adequate English to study in their university courses, then they offered them to study between a few months to a year to polish their “academic English” plus maybe their high-school courses to ensure they will be OK in the next university courses. The universities call this a “pathway education courses” or used to be called “foundation courses.” These actually are their biggest cash-cows compared to the uni courses since these pathway courses tend to be 100% attended by international students who pay much higher fees compared to domestic Australian students.

    The internal assessment from the pathway education branch will decide whether the student’s English skills has improved enough to continue on into their university’s Bachelor or Master course programs. Whether the assessment is good enough is another question, considering they have every incentive to pass the students to the next revenue stream i.e the university’s Bachelor or Master programs.

    On top of the English skills problem, there’s another problem i.e. the academic aptitude of the international students. Many students who look good in English (at least based on internal or external assessment like IELTS test result) but would still struggle in their university courses since they’re not really “academically-inclined” type of students or they’re not well adapted with uni courses in western countries like Australia which rely more on personal research, initiatives and critical thinking rather than rote-learning. These student attributes / habits cannot be taught in a semester in the so-called pathway education, and that’s why many international students struggle a lot in their next Bachelor or Master program courses.

  4. Trimming the fat from the bloated Universities (layers of unnecesary positions which add no value to students or to research), would be a good start.

    Less fat, less staff headcount, would mean less reliance on the international student market (and less justification for the high salaries of VCs).

    • Talking about layers of fats in higher education sector, I’ve seen in a Sales & Marketing department of one institution where they have a few temp assistants who work under the Executive Assistant of the Head of Sales & Marketing. They’re called / titled as “the Executive Assistant’s assistants”. How about that ? Do you like your fat layers ? The spending budget for Sales & Marketing department in most Australian high-ed institutions I suspect will be one of, if not THE Biggest one compared to the operational, facilities, financial and educational budgets.

  5. I have an honest question: Is it the Universities that are really driving this decline in standards?
    If we use the way back machine to cast a glimpse at our Universities pre-Whitlam we had a university system that was constructed to educate the richest 5% AND the smartest 5% of the nation.
    The richest 5% were educated in private schools (the kind that I went to) where over 50% of the graduating class was University bound (they weren’t any smarter than the average kid attending the average high school but they were much much better prepared, by their schools, for their HSC exams.. In the end analysis 12 years of private education counted for something. As for the other 5% (getting into university) they were seriously smart..
    So lets be 100% clear, this top 5% of the HSC are still seriously smart, they’re still on the deans list for whatever courses they take, and they still over-achieve and graduate with honors, On average they are still the top 5% when the graduate. The 5% that came from uber-rich families was never really looking for a job after graduation because their lots in life was already guaranteed. It didn’t matter what GPA they graduated with, they were set for life. (dad’s company, old school tie etc)
    Now march forward 50 years and we have 50% of the population expecting to attend university accompanied by an equal number of Full fee paying International students.
    Simple math suggests that the top 5% will always be the out performers in the top 50%, so if you’re after academic rigor than you should look exclusively at what the top 5% of the population achieves. From what I can see today’s top 5% are in every way as capable , smart, dedicated, intelligent ….as any other top 5% at any point in time.
    The next 45% are no smarter nor dumber, no more diligent nor any lazier, no more honest …than their cohort at any point in post WW2 history. The only change that I can see is that this 45% now attends university (5% still have uber rich families ) but that leaves the 40% that are graduating with less impressive results, and degrees in [email protected], that still expect to be employed and paid commensurate with their degree qualifications.
    Am I missing something, if you ask me the dumbing-down of our universities seems to primarily a result of this social demographic expansion that come hand in hand with the expectation that 50% of the population attend universities.

    • Interesting take, thanks. I guess the only downside is that the fabric and feel of the unis is far less pleasant. And the whole back door immigration issue too.

    • drsmithyMEMBER

      I think the implication that only the top 5% (in terms of capabilities) derive any benefit from a University education is a bit low.

  6. Am I missing something, if you ask me the dumbing-down of our universities seems to primarily a result of this social demographic expansion that come hand in hand with the expectation that 50% of the population attend universities.

    You’re right and also don’t forget the uni also get their portion of the not-so-academically inclined cohorts of the international students. In the industry, many professors and players have silently admitted that the smart students from China / India most likely go to USA / UK uni if they have financial means, and maybe choose to study in the best uni of Asia if they don’t have financial means considering many Asian universities actually have higher ranking than Australian’s ones (e.g. the ones in China, India and Singapore). The ones coming to Australian’s institutions are the not-so-smart yet have some financial means ones and even these cohorts are also getting fewer and fewer on the ground. That’s why now they’re after new developing countries of source like Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and the current’s favorite Nepal.

  7. John Dawkins who started it all.
    Michael Knight who expanded it.
    Christopher Pyne / ‘self declared funds’.
    The ‘Vice’ Chancellors.
    The corrupt Agents & traffickers.
    The Immigration Dept officials in what is literally zero visa checking, tracking or ongoing COE / condition of entry enforcement.
    In the dock – facing a Royal Commission

    The ‘Great Australian International Student industry $32 billion ‘Export’ Myth” exposed.

    And here once again is the actual numbers of all foreign students & AND partners on secondary visas that enter on number of visa categories on the ‘foreign student education’ pretext.

    The oft repeated claim:
    “The number of student visas has increased with the booming international student export industry in Australia, now worth an estimated $32 billion*.”

    *The original source being a Deloitte Access Economics study commissioned by the Australian Education & International Students lobbyists.

    ➡️It’s $32 billion of ‘economic activity’.
    That is true.
    But they are not a $32 billion ‘Export’ industry.

    The original source.
    A 2015 Deloitte Access Economics Report paid for by the Department of Australian Education. Pure paid off propaganda.

    The ‘export $$ number’ has then been prorated from those 2015 numbers by the growth in foreign student numbers to now be a ‘ $32 billion export’.

    Original source – Deloitte 2015.

    Key takeaway.
    The report misleadingly describes the foreign student ‘economic activity’ as a ‘services export’.

    But it is one sided, not exposing their declared funds or actual source of income (which is primarily working illegally) or the foreign student wider social & economic cost impact to Australians.

    March 2018: 672,000 foreign students & partner across all visa categories.

    These include international student & secondary partners, post graduate & partners*, special visas, and DFAT scholarships & education visas.
    *Partners enter on a secondary visa with full work rights and no English test.
    All visa categories are heavily frauded in entry and funds.

    By visa groups.
    March 2018 International student 536,000
    March 2018 Graduate 65,000
    March 2018 DFAT / Other 12,000
    March 2018 ‘partners’ secondary visa 59,000
    Total = > 672,000

    Fact check.
    The sources to check this include VisaSure, DHA/ABF & Australian Education gov snapshots websites.
    This VisaSure link gives a simple summary & at bottom further links to the DHA detailed data.

    Last years growth rate was 5.7% (DHA quarterly report)

    ➡️ March 2019 Foreign Students & partners across all visa categories = 714,000

    During 2018-2019 there has been a 5.7% growth rate (DHA or Dept of Home Affairs quarterly reports). It could be higher as the DHA statistics lag by up to 9 months.

    March 2019: 712,000 foreign students & partners onshore is a very conservative estimate…

    Their actual fee income paid?
    $8.2 billion Mode 2 onshore foreign students in the report, the other modes are fractional.
    And all the rest of the ‘economic value’ like family visits & so on added on again without cost impacts.

    See report in link Mode 2 Fees : $4.7 billion – $5.7 billion then, Page 74 footnote 24 hidden down the bottom)

    And now with growth of numbers est at $8.2 billion) are matched to the costs & profit taken by providers in delivering the ‘education service’.

    Cross check on those foreign student funds & offshore sources of income.

    This is the only real ‘import’ of money to spend here to claim as payment of an ‘exported education service’

    It turns out the money to pay even the primary applicant student fees is EARNED HERE.

    The foreign students come in with under $2.4 billion in declared funds, often rorted (DHA Declared Funds Report 2017) so what’s happening is that’s just enough to pay that new entire intake first semester fees.

    The rest is never checked, or borrowed from an agent procurer loan debt & fee or via a paid ‘uncle sponsor’ – the money only in the bank account long enough to get the visa, then whisked out again.

    And all the rest of the money earned here.

    Many are in agent procurer loan debt, even for just those first semester fees.

    The test being that if all foreign students funds had to be declared, all fees for the 4 year course paid upfront, plus government held bonds or monitored accounts on funds their 4 visa years living expenses of $28k a year as per most country intake rules (eg China) – then almost immediately 95% of our current intake would fail that criteria.

    Human capital value.
    Deloitte adds on a very arbitrary $8.7 billion human capital value (page 49) as they get the PR etc.

    What they fail to mention is that only 3.9% of the foreign students ever progress to a high income professional vocation (2015 A Decade On Migrant Pathways Report).

    So 96% of foreign students & partners DO NOT achieve a high income professional vocation in Australia (as a PR) or back on their home country.

    Cross check.
    The later Productivity Commission Report also found that foreign students were a very low quality unskilled & unsuitable PR intake.

    They rated them as negative human capital value compared to a more desirable highly skilled & proven human capital value intake.

    Their overall summary is that the vast bulk of foreign students are from third world countries, unskilled, not particularly young (many 30 year old adult) -and are doing very low level courses, so not a good PR intake.

    And we know that there is systemic fraud, easily cheated courses, manufactured ‘Education & courses that are readily available in their home country (often high school level in that country, but here dressed up as a certificate or diploma with no international recognition.
    And much of the ‘education’ is even free online globally.

    The overall view is that the foreign students are not here for the ‘education’ but to work illegally, to snag a PR, to be an anchor for chain migration, and many come in with significant foreign agent procurer debt, reinforcing their intention to work illegally in visa breach.

    The biggest issue however in the Deloitte report is their total failure to quantify the economic & social impact of the foreign student industry to Australians.

    Impacts for example that have now degraded Australian Education sector (fallen 10 places globally), created mass congestion, housing contention, and allowed almost 3/4 of a million foreign students to enter, live & work illegally, with large scale visa fraud and breach of their visa conditions & COE.

    Here are the details missing in the Deloitte Report by Economic & Social category:

    It uses the March 2018 672,000 foreign student & partner number, even tho this has now increased to 712,000.

    🔻1. Job theft & lowered wages for Australians.
    75% of the 672,000 (2018 number) foreign students work illegally (Syd Uni & UTS studies), so that’s 505,000 in visa breach stealing over 505,000 Australians jobs, & lowering wages for all other Australians.
    Those 505,000 Australian unemployed cost $9.6 billion in Australian tax funded unemployment benefit costs.
    That alone exceeds the entire foreign student fee income (and of which most of which is earned here illegally).
    So on just one simple measure, the entire foreign student industry is economically negative (fees paid v illegal work & Australians unemployment impact)

    🔻2. Australian Wages Impact.
    The evidence is that the foreign students and the wider Temporary Resident group lower wages for all Australians in both the race to the bottom in wages paid, illegal work and casualisation of employment – costing tens of billions in Australian direct wages loss, loss of permanent jobs & plus taxation loss or avoidance.

    The estimate is that they lower all Australian wages by 6.7% or $48 billion, and the indirect tax loss (from no wages growth for all Australians, so less tax paid at what would be a higher rate) – that’s a hard loss taxation impact of $16.3 billion.

    🔻3. Australian Housing Impact.
    The report is silent on the fact that the foreign students & partners are long stay to very long stay (4 to 9 years is common in COE & visa extension & churn).

    The report is also silent on the fact that the 672,000 foreign students & partners occupy at least 134,000 ex Australian dwellings at say 5 per dwelling.

    They don’t mention the concentration but that is 91% or 603,000 foreign students in just Sydney or Melbourne.

    96% of 91% of foreign students & partners rent in ‘private shared accommodation’
    (DHIA & SCC housing studies) as the Universities & colleges only provide a tiny fraction (under 3%) of Sydney or Melbourne accommodation & its high cost. Far less affordable than foreign owned & run high density cram bunk share subletting.

    At an average of $180 a week each being the widely advertised market rent in Sydney for bunkshare – that’s $6.3 billion cash rent paid, but only $3 billion in what is ‘legal occupancy’ rent able to be declared, so $3.3 billion taken as cash plus negative gearing claims of another $0.5 billion.

    Plus add on the contention / rent impacts on Australian renters of at least another $3 billion negative.
    $6 -8 billion negative.

    Plus 116,000 Australian homeless & 360,000 Australians seeking affordable housing or on housing assistance costing the Australian taxpayer $3.7 billion.

    So at least $10 billion negative impact.

    🔻4. Congestion / public infrastructure.
    The foreign students drive some 108,000 cars on international licences (RMS/Vic Roads).
    Their fines are not even collected by NSW SDRO as it’s so heavily frauded in identity fraud.
    No registration, checks on identity or location or address systems are in place, or links to immigration & law enforcement.

    They heavily congest our trains & public transport. As anyone can attest to. Sparking massive infrastructure projects such as Sydney Light Rail ($4 billion) that they will never pay for.

    Tens of billions lost.

    🔻5. Environmental impact.
    There is also no mention of power or water usage impact, 300,000 foreign students & partners in just Sydney alone – the Desal plant, emissions impact & all the other folly of mass concentration – costing the Australian taxpayer even billions more.

    🔻6. Visa breach/criminal activity.
    No mention that the foreign student industry is the epi-centre of crime & the foreign run vice industry, willing participants trafficked in on a student alibi, or resorting to that as their main income onshore.

    No mention of the foreign student used as ‘mules’ in mass scale foreign criminal money laundering.

    No mention of the tens billions of dirty money washed in by the foreign criminal syndicates to buy those modest Australian established dwellings via a PR proxy for the rivers of untaxed cash in migrant subletting, vice & crime.

    No mention of the Foreign students queued up at Xwing to launder back their debt repayments & remittances offshore – some $5.3 billion flowing out from their $31 billion illegally earned here.

    🔻7. Impact to Australian Education.

    No mention of the cost & social impact to Australian youth now denied an affordable quality education, as the education sector prostitutes itself as a migrant visa alibi.

    Tens of billions in immediate & long term impact to Australians.


    And it only gets worse.

    A ‘modest’ goal of 1 million foreign students in the medium term. (next 5 years)
    Deloitte Report prepared for Austrade.
    It’s a shocker.

    In summary.
    The foreign student Industry may be a $32 billion ‘yearly GDP activity’ in March 2018.

    But it is NOT an ‘Export’ at all, none of it.
    In is a massively corrupted, economically & socially negative program.

    At a very minimum $17 billion negative.
    Up to $26 billion negative.

    Each and every foreign student & their ‘partner’ – in any simple measure is at least negative $25k each in their individual economic & social impact.

    And that is just one set of our TR visa categories that are totally corrupted.

    The wider crisis.
    We had 2.431 million temporary residents in Australia in March 2018.

    Fact check / source.

    It has grown subsequently by 130,000 net new TR or 5.3% to now 2,561,000 as of March 2019.
    (The DHA website & quarterly tables at the bottom of the VSure page)

    2.3 million or 89% of the Temporary Resident visa holders are concentrated in Sydney & Melbourne (ABS)

    🔹Sydney pop 5.2 million.
    🔻1.3 million Temporary Residents.
    ◽️1 in 4 people.

    🔹Melbourne pop 5.0 million.
    🔻1.05 million Temporary Residents.
    ◽️1 in 5 people.

    We need a Royal Commission into our totally broken & corrupted Temporary Resident Visa system.

    And what better place to start than the fraudulent, corrupt, economically & socially damaging ‘international student industry’.

    • Great post. I suspect that one motivation for this disaster, apart from cheap labour and higher profits for the politicians’ developer mates, is the need to disguise youth unemployment among the domestic population to prevent social unrest. “You aren’t unemployed, you are a student.” Never mind that your degree will lead exactly nowhere, even if you can finish it. This leads to the massive, unaffordable expansion of the university system that Fisho discussed above and hence the need for international students as a cash cow rather than big increases in taxation.