This month’s Four Corners special on Australia’s international student boom featured Western Australia’s Murdoch University, which was accused of badly lowering its standards in order to lift its international students numbers by 92% between 2017 and 2018, resulting in increased incidences of plagiarism, academic misconduct, and rising failure rates.
The claims were made by three whistle-blowing academics, who put their career at risk by coming forward and now face possible retribution from management, according to National Tertiary Education Union WA division secretary, Jonathan Hallett:
“They are still very nervous about retribution — the silence is almost worse than some kind of action,” Dr Hallett said…
The union says its written request to the vice-chancellor Eeva Leinonen and chancellor David Flanagan asking for assurances that those who spoke up would be protected has received no response. Last week more than 180 NTEU members met and passed a resolution calling for an external inquiry…
“We want to be sure we have systems in place that are supporting those students. We are calling for more public accountability because internal processes seem to be failing.”
One of the academics, Dr Gerd Schroeder-Turk, is the staff elected representative to Murdoch University’s governing body, known as the Senate (details here). Dr Schroeder-Turk claims that he and his fellow staff have raised concerns about international students repeatedly across various committees, but have been ignored:
ASSOC PROF GERD SHRODER- TURK: I’ve got very serious ethical concerns about the way the practices that we’re applying in the international students’ recruitment space. I’m concerned both about the welfare of the students and the wellbeing of the students, as well as about the academic integrity, or the problems related to academic integrity that result from this…
Between me and my colleagues, we have raised concerns about these issues in almost all relevant university committees. I can only, at this point in time, assure you that I have raised my concerns in all the forums that I was able to raise them in.
Local students reacted angrily following the Four Corners report, accusing Murdoch University of “dumbing down” courses and devaluing their degrees in the pursuit of profit. Predictably, the top brass at Murdoch University refuted these allegations, instead claiming it is “proud to be a global university”.
On Friday afternoon, a Town Hall meeting was held at Murdoch University, which discussed the issue. This meeting featured a speech by Vice Chancellor, Professor Eeva Leinonen, who once again defended the University against wrongdoing, followed by a short Q&A session with students (first two questions) and staff (last two questions). An anonymous attendee provided me with these recordings, which are presented below.
The most extraordinary claim by Professor Leinonen is that Four Corners’ statement that universities were using international students as “cash cows” was “probably racist”:
“There were claims in that story. Look, I used to be an international student once upon a time. If somebody had called me a cash cow, I would have been absolutely livid. It is insulting and it is probably racist”…
“I do stand by my earlier comment that it is insulting, absolutely insulting, to call human beings cash cows. And this is not the first time that that particular network [The ABC] has done so”.
This is absurd. Wikipedia says “cash cow” is an accepted business term. Further, in the Four Corners’ report, it was Associate Professor Sharif As-saber who used the term:
ASSOC PROF SHARIF AS-SABER, RMIT: Of course, they are the cash cows. That is no doubt about it.
Associate Professor Sharif As-saber has worked in several countries, and was the recipient of the “Serendib Multicultural Personality of the Year” award for his contributions to the multicultural community of Australia. Making accusations of possible racism is hardly fair or reasonable.
Each of the four questions from the audience took opposite positions to Professor Leinonen. And the two very good questions from students claimed that universities were exploiting international students and setting them up for failure. Professor Leinonen’s response was overly defensive and essentially amounted to:
- Everyone else is doing it.
- International students come here on their own free will. They are not victims.
- Taking offence on their behalf (i.e. more outrage at the term “cash cow”).
- She was once an international student.
- They were only implementing decisions of academic council and academic chairs, so everyone else is at fault.
Students and staff hoping for some contrition and reform from Murdoch University in the wake of this scandal would have been left sorely disappointed.