Universities confess dangerous reliance on international students

Earlier this month, Ross Gittins derided Australia’s university system as “de-facto privatisation” gone wrong, whereby “governments of both persuasions had gone for years trying to get the universities off the budget books”, thereby giving universities “unrestricted power to charge overseas students”. As a result, vice chancellors have become “as money-obsessed as any company chief executive… slashing entry requirements and cramming in as many more under-qualified undergrads as they could”. The end result, according to Gittins, is that universities have “gone too close to turning undergrad teaching into a money-making sausage machine, where you have to be really dumb not to pass”.

Yesterday, Australia’s Group of Eight (Go8) universities, who have experienced explosive growth in international students (see above table) and last year banked nearly $8 billion in tuition fees from these students, admitted that their reliance on international students for funding is unsustainable. From The Australian:

[Universities] are aware that the large Chinese student market, which delivers nearly four in 10 of the international students in Aust­ralian universities, is softening.

The Group of Eight univer­sities, which do the majority of ­university research, say they are dependent on international ­stud­ent revenue to fund their ­research programs.

“We cannot sustain a funding model which relies on foreign stud­ents to subsidise research, and that’s the crux of the issue,” said Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson…

She said that the Group of Eight universities, which source only 35 per cent of their revenue from government, were now effect­ively privately funded.

It’s hard to take the universities’ crying over funding seriously when vice chancellors are creaming it with average salaries of around $1 million:

Analysis of financial disclosures of 21 universities in NSW and Victoria by Fairfax Media shows eight paid their vice-chancellors more than $1 million in 2017, compared to six last year.

The average pay, which often includes homes on campus and other benefits, rose to $970,000.

By comparison, Oxford University vice-chancellor Louise Richardson is paid £350,000, or $615,000…

Perhaps universities should first cut the fat cat salaries to pay for extra research before demanding more taxpayer money?

Moreover, it’s not just international student numbers that have skyrocketed, but domestic students as well, as universities slashed entry requirements to bring in as many domestic students as possible under the demand-drive system:

Given the myriad of problems identified in last week’s Four Corners expose and elsewhere, there is an obvious need for a broad-based review into Australia’s higher education system by the Productivity Commission.

Throwing taxpayer money at universities, without first identifying and fixing the underlying problems, is a recipe for disaster.

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  1. An issue worthy of a Royal Commission with terms of reference to look at the entire Ponzi. Now that the typical neoliberal race to the bottom has filtered out academically focused VCs concerned about scholarship and installed ‘CEO-esk’ pretenders who take obscene salary packages and routinely incentivise bad behaviour, there is absolutely no use believing that the tertiary system will self-correct. The ‘Group of Ate (past tense)’ are akin to bankers who sold their principles and institutional souls to Mammon yonks ago. Neoliberalism is like a virus that destroys institutional cultures from within by making them inhospitable to all but the rabidly $-focused. Such institutions can only be torn down and rebuilt – and the sooner the better. There are some massive scum-buckets on the public take at our universities doing the bidding of the rabid right. They’ve turned university departments into penny pinching fiefdoms, each trying to screw the other in the name of ‘competition’.

    Amusing fact 1: the VC of Melbourne University is the husband of the VC at Monash University. Total ideological independence is thus assured.

    Amusing fact 2: the ex-VC of University of Tasmania spent his time doing real estate deals flogging off university land to developers and shifting entire campuses about in the most bizarre finance-driven mania yet seen at a university. Alan Bond had nothing on this guy.

    Amusing fact 3: the VC of Uni NSW is just amusing – for how a far right wing carpetbagger can make themselves so at home destroying the quality of tertiary education to Australian students, whilst claiming to do the exact opposite.

    Universities are a treasure trove of scumminess that will give the banking RC a run for its money.

    • Royal Commission here Royal Commission there. Perhaps what is really needed is a proper Government. One that regulates and does its job properly. Then this as well as hundreds of other issues wouldn’t happen in the first place. All level’s of government in Australia are captured by big business interest and lobbyist. Im currently working with 6 “international students” here to learn and work…ALL wanting to stay permanently. Time to take the vested interests out of the system with a much needed ICAC on a federal level. There is one thing that will make a huge difference. VOTE CURRENTLY SITTING MPP’s OUT! Time to start fresh

  2. she came under pressure to justify her £350,000-a-year pay.

    That is the VC of Oxford Uni. And that is A$650k/year.

    Australia’s 38 public university vice-chancellors were paid an average $890,000 in 2016, and 12 earned more than $1 million.

    WTF! Cap the salaries of vice chancellors already. No more than $200k/year for any of them.

    The ALP is full of duplicity. Putting 50% of year 12 finishers into “uni” and then giving the jobs to 457 visa staff anyway.

    Young Aussie women do a “degree” and then end up working as receptionists. They would be better off working as receptionists from the beginning rather than wasting 3 years and accumulating HECS debt! Another disaster from the fake left.


    Concerns as Singapore government’s decision to not recognise UTAS medical graduates

    EMILY BAKER, State Political Reporter, Mercury
    May 14, 2019 7:41pm

    MEDICAL students at the University of Tasmania say they are worried the Singapore government’s decision to no longer recognise their degrees will harm the institution’s ability to attract overseas enrolments.

    UTAS was one of three Australian universities the Singaporean Ministry of Health this year struck from its list of recognised medical training institutions.

    In a statement, the ministry said it had been growing its own capabilities, and had looked at universities’ rankings and the performance of their graduates when choosing who to remove.

    “[This was] to ensure that the quality of overseas-trained doctors practising in Singapore locally remains high,” the statement said.

    The change will not affect students already part-way through their degrees.

    A UTAS spokeswoman said: “Our internationally renowned researchers, innovative teaching and world-class facilities attract students both locally and abroad from a range of countries.

    “Globally, the tertiary education sector continues to evolve, where it is not unusual to see significant changes from countries responding to their own needs.”

    Tasmanian University Medical Students’ Society president Thomas Webster said the decision would likely lead to a decline in the number of Singaporean students studying at UTAS.

    “This creates a deficit in commencing international student numbers, as students from Singapore constitute the majority of international students studying medicine at UTAS,” Mr Webster said.

    “As international students make up approximately one-third of a medical cohort at UTAS, we would imagine they are now looking very hard to find another international student population to fill this apparent enrolment deficit for the coming year, and for the foreseeable future.

    “We urge them to be open and transparent with the student body moving forward.”

    The university’s 2017 annual report — the most recent available online — described Singapore as a “key market” for international students.

    • As Buffett said, it will take a long time for a tarnished brand to recover its status, if at all.

      The funny thing is, I bet NUS would rank much higher than UTAS. I also bet Singaporean GDP per capita is higher than Strayan, so PR wouldn’t be that much attractive. Why would Singaporeans come to UTAS in the first place?

      • Because wealthy Singaporeans want to study somewhere exotic, probably.

        And then there are students who didn’t make the cut at NUS.

  4. Don’t forget the casualization of the academic workforce vis a vis the ridiculous VC salaries

    • The casualization of the academic workforce is an essential part of controlling expenditures and maximising profits – and the VCs and the management are rewarded for their financial success.

      • Yeap. And an insecure workforce ultimately is a compliant and submissive workforce.

    • the casualisation of the academic workforce is in due part to the demand driven funding model for domestic students where entry standards for all intents and purposes no longer exist, with one major University all but admitting this and also the need to service the massive numbers of overseas students arriving here. Most of these academics are from the sub-continent with dodgy degrees which are found to be fabricated.

  5. Given the number of 20 year olds in Asia has now begun to fall, to maintain equal numbers, let alone grow, you need to grow market share, which was always going to be difficult in the face of increased places both in the 20 year olds’ home countries and in other countries that want some of the international student profits.
    The easiest way to grow market share is obviously to drop standards, but it only works for a few years as the graduates from courses with dropped standards slowly discover their degrees are useless and tell their younger relatives (well, all their relatives, but their younger relatives are your future customers). At that point your reputation is damaged so you lose market share unless you drop standards further, leading to a death spiral.
    The alternative is to improve quality, but you will see a drop off in numbers at the start, and there will be a lag in improved reputaion, by which time the market will have shrunk further and competing supply grown further. Given where we are, massively reduced international student numbers are unavoidable.