Lecturers: Cheating widespread among international students

This month’s Four Corners expose on Australia’s burgeoning international student trade revealed a system in crisis. Australia’s universities were shown to have slashed education standards in a bid to lure international students, with many lacking the basic English skills necessary to succeed. The end result was increased cases of plagiarism, academic misconduct, and rising failure rates among international students.

What is perhaps most disheartening about this latest report is that we have been down this road before. In 2015, Four Corners aired a similar expose entitled “Degrees of Deception”, which documented widespread cheating, plagiarism and fraud by international students at Australia’s universities (read transcript here). For example, Sydney University lecturer Zena O’Connor stated that she was “staggered by the increase in plagiarism” and estimated that the proportion of international students that cheated was “well over 50 per cent”.

In the four years between both Four Corners exposes, we’ve received multiple other reports of cheating by international students.

For example, an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) report demanded that universities curb cheating by international students after 70 students were caught up in a cheating racket:

Last year, an ABC investigation reported 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”.

And earlier this year, international student associations demanded greater regulation of overseas education agents amid widespread cheating on English tests to gain entry into Australian universities.

New Zealand, too, is experiencing similar problems with cheating by international students.

Earlier this month, half of international students studying at Auckland University were accused of buying their essays from ghost-writers.

Now, a New Zealand lecturer, whose name has been kept secret to protect their career, told 1 News that ghostwriting has become so endemic that half of the international students in their class have been failed for cheating. Another anonymous lecturer also claimed that they have been pressured by management to pass failing international students:

“Management are extremely naive and out of touch if they think that this doesn’t go on in their institutions,” they said…

“I’ve signalled for some years now that we have a serious problem, only to be ignored while the problem grows,” they said. “In my view it seems easier to take international students’ money than address the prolific cheating that occurs, it’s both unethical and immoral”…

According to the lecturer, half their classes are international students.

“They can barely write a paragraph in English. The quality of the general work they hand in is absolutely appalling.

“They’re paying anywhere from $30,000-$50,000 a year to study here, so from a student’s perspective it’s natural to expect that they will be awarded a degree. Higher education has become a simple commercial transaction. Pay the money, pass the paper.”

The lecturer said students swear they’re not cheating, but when confronted, clam up, threaten self-harm or have even said they’ll accuse the lecturer of racism…

Another lecturer, whose identity 1 NEWS has also chosen to withhold, said final exam results among international students are often so low, university management strongly encourages them to bump up marks to improve the overall pass rate.

This is what happens when higher education is commercialised, and international students are treated as customers to be milked for profit.

A culture has been created where these students believe they have a right to purchase the qualification they have paid for, rather than earn it. In turn, education standards have been eroded alongside widespread cheating.

It’s time for a royal commission into the whole rotten university system.

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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

    • McPaddyMEMBER

      Agree in principle, David, but an exam is a pretty poor way of assessing ability, so 100% exam disadvantages many genuine students too. Perhaps you say that the exam is 50% of the total marks and if a major difference in quality between exam and other work is detected in a candidate then there’s an escalation for review.

      • Yup, if there’s a large difference between the written exam paper at the end of the course, and the work during the year, just go old school – bring the student in for “second chance” orals, the way postgrads have had to defend research since probably the beginning of time.. In person. Name matched against photo ID. If their conversational English or whiteboard problem work is sufficient to convey understanding of the course materials, even if they need a bit of a prompt with a formula or timeline from a book, pass. Otherwise, the exam stands.

      • Meh. Life is a daily exam. If you can’t pass a course 100% exam closed book then you’ll be pretty useless out in the real World.

  1. “This is what happens when higher education is commercialised, and international students are treated as customers to be milked for profit.”

    But it started when domestic students were treated as “customers” and “clients”. Scholarship is not an industry but something that happens in a critical teaching environment where logic, reason, truth, diligence and integrity are involved. Society benefits if we protect the normative values of scholarship and is degraded when we don’t.

    Are we going to employ a cheating student in a key position of trust? Are our academic institutions going to inflict poorly trained and unscrupulous people on the world who wave an Australian degree at their accusers when they are found to be incompetent and unethical?

    • Well said Clive.
      It appears to me that there are too many assessments using essays that are produced at home instead of in an examination where time is limited and the student has to rely on her/his brain instead of the internet.
      Also, examiners have had to lift the scores of local students to allow overseas students to pass with the result being large numbers of HDs and Ds and small numbers of credits and passes.
      In my day a class of 89 final year dental students would see 1HD, 3Ds, 20 Credits, 61 Passes and 4 Posts in an exam result.
      Dumbing down the cohort ruins the system:another reason for
      politicians with little substance.

      • Wow, interesting that it’s also raised the marks of local students. The one anecdote I’d heard was of a local student unhappy because he got the same mark as a few international students who he felt didn’t understand the course. I wonder if that’s a really rare occurrence. (?)

  2. Article from Friday night:

    Social credit cameras to catch exam cheats in AUS.

    https://www.smh.com.au/education/facial-recognition-technology-to-crack-down-on-exam-cheating-20190524-p51qut.html

    Will they really crack down on exam cheats? Numerous reports over the last 16 years have said that foreign “students” bribe Aussie professors. The more “degrees” they print, the more money the “unis” get! They get endless federal funding with no strings attached.

    As time went by, the “unis” became more and more brazen.

    The state government of Victoria shows the way. There is a select entry government high school and it does not let everyone in – it has less than 1500 students now. It is absolutely insane to have a policy of allowing 50% of year 12 finishers into “uni”. The federally funded “unis” must become select entry institutes once again.

    • Yeah, but then, whatever government does this, has a couple of bigger, more immediate problems on its hands: a whole lot of unemployed youth which really ruins your unemployment numbers, and a dead lot of industries which could’ve employed them. Oh, and suddenly there will be a hell of a lot louder noises about immigration, not at all friendly!

  3. bobalotMEMBER

    Let’s be honest guys.

    The Federal government needs to do something about it but they won’t because they don’t give a shit.

  4. Assuming the VCs are worth a quarter of their salaries, they will quickly realise they are trashing their own bra, and improve standards, which require big drops in enrolments. If they don’t, their reputation will be shot, their degrees will be worthless, and there will be even bigger falls in enrolments.

    • These Vice Chancellors are spivs. Greedfreaks who care nothing for scholarship. They will take their massive salaries and disappear with the loot before they can be held accountable. Just like bank CEO’s.

      • In which case the weaker unis will collapse along with enrolments.Melbourne Uni might be too big to fail – Victoria Uni could well not be.

    • DominicMEMBER

      You’d assume this scam will eventually eat itself. Employers will simply blacklist students from the worst Unis and word will get out. Either way this doesn’t sound sustainable

  5. We can just fix this if we were blatantly honest and simply sold visas. It would end up being cheaper to administer, bring in more money and we don’t have to waste academic time or students who actually want a degree to be valuable.Just set the price $100k per person and start selling them visas!

    • @Calvin27 I wonder if that would illicit the same response from the people as when the Catholic Church was selling indulgences??

      • By which you presumably mean they will to continue to go along with it without protest for fear of upsetting the hierarchy, as people did until the insider Roman Catholic priest Luther blew the whistle on indulgences with his Bishop.

    • It wouldn’t work, which is why we should do it. Keep in mind that the permanent parental visa is about the price for both parents, and there’s no queue for that.

      • Price everything. If we want to be capitalist might as well profit from it. Then take the money and give it straight to the people for a ‘population growth dividend’.

        /endsarc…

    • > We can just fix this if we were blatantly honest and simply sold visas.

      Tie it to the dole “Adopt a bogan bludger! Only 13k per annum!”

      • I love good creative discussions on MB. You could make your scheme even better by doing a bludger swap. Bludger gets $100k and swaps visa with new migrant.

      • Mining BoganMEMBER

        $100k. Pfft. Barely buy a Kakadu to go to the shops in. Also wouldn’t buy me a visa anywhere else.

        This bludger wants more.