International students face tougher English language requirements

At the beginning of the year, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews wrote a letter to the National Tertiary Education Union promising to demand a federal government review of university English-language requirements amid concerns that many international students were struggling to participate in class and complete assignments, as well as placing undue strain on teaching staff:

“International students are a vital part of Victoria’s education system but it’s concerning that some students are enrolled in courses without adequate English language skills to complete them,” he said.

Academics, tutors and students say some international students are struggling to understand instructions in class, complete assignments and communicate with other students.

They say English standards have been set too low and can be bypassed by enrolling in bridging courses…

The union is calling for a review of the English standards required for student visas and those set by universities…

The Premier’s letter follows a sharp lift in international student numbers, which have nearly doubled from 332,356 in March 2013 to 612,825 as at March 2019:

As shown in the next table from the Department of Education, the majority of international student growth has occurred in Melbourne and Sydney, whose numbers have ballooned by 125,393 (396%) and 100,532 (345%) respectively since 2000:

A fortnight ago, federal education minister, Dan Tehan, announced that the Coalition Government would tighten rules around English standards:

The Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, the independent regulator of universities, recommended to Mr Tehan in March that tougher English language standards be applied to academic foundation courses that provide foreign students with a pathway into enrolment at universities… the regulator also advised that monitoring of universities’ compliance could be sharpened, including by forcing them to “record, in detail, the basis on which a student met the required English language entry standard”…

Mr Tehan is said to be supportive of the changes and the Department of Education is now developing advice for him on how they would operate…

And yesterday, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) announced that it would audit more than 55 English-language course providers to ensure they are meeting tougher government requirements:

The providers will be scrutinised for their compliance with national standards that were tightened from 2018, requiring proper measures to demonstrate students’ outcomes are adequate for the higher education programs they are entering…

“As part of this, the agency will systematically go through provider by provider (and there are about 55 providers that offer ELICOS courses) and will be assessing those courses against the strengthened ELICOS national standards,” the spokeswoman said…

Amanda Muller, a senior lecturer responsible for student language development at Flinders University, said the tightening of ELICOS standards was “entirely needed”…

She said there was pressure on providers to produce results for their customers in the smallest amount of time possible…

If the federal government was genuinely interested in addressing the problems pervading Australia’s universities, it would task the Productivity Commission (PC) to undertake a warts-and-all review of the international student industry to determine whether it is maximising net benefits for Australians, in addition to tasking the PC with providing recommendations for improvement.

Australia badly needs a holistic assessment of the international student industry from a respected and impartial organisation like the PC. Only then will policy be calibrated to benefit all Australians, rather the education industry, who are treating international students as cash cows to be milked for profit.

More broadly, Australia must remove the link between international students studying at university and gaining permanent residency. Let educational institutions compete for international students on the basis of the quality of their education, not as export businesses offering a pathway to backdoor immigration. The whole sector has become bloated on an unsustainable model of linking tertiary education to residency.

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Unconventional Economist

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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  1. haroldusMEMBER


    More broadly, Australia must remove the link between international students studying at university and gaining permanent residency.

    Ahahahahhahahahahahhahahahahahahahahahhh llolololo1lolllL1Lo1l1lolO1L1LL!OL!!LOLOLO

    • Funny, isn’t it? The sole purpose of linking international students studying at university to gaining permanent residency was to open the floodgate. It was a rather desperate measure to prop up the ailing property market.

      So telling Straya to remove the link is like telling Straya to stop being desperate. Guess what, few desperate people will stop being desperate just because they are told to do so.

  2. I also find it hard to believe it is anything more than smoke and mirrors and huff and puff. Too many vested interests.

    Although English is the problem that has gathered most attention, the problem is really a deliberate lack of scrutiny of all entry requirements. How many Masters by coursework students are weaker than the undergraduates from the same institution? Masters by coursework is in the majority of cases only catering to international students needing a western qualification. For example, a masters student in IT should have a related undergraduate degree. When they don’t know how to use a memory stick, alarm bells should be ringing.

  3. “More broadly, Australia must remove the link between international students studying at university and gaining permanent residency. Let educational institutions compete for international students on the basis of the quality of their education, not as export businesses offering a pathway to backdoor immigration.”

    Sure – but fine if we keep the geniuses – very desirable. But I doubt that this is not what we are doing as it is very likely that we offer a package deal that includes immigration as a big fat worm on the hook.

    We need hard data on the quality of students we give residency to. If we can ship in 100 k geniuses a year who produce cutting edge IP – let’s keep them all. But if we are giving residency to graduate students – why? What’s the point? Where is there a skills shortage of graduates that we cannot make up from domestic students?

    So we need to know what % of those granted citizenship completed PhDs in STEM subjects compared to domestic students. That sort of breakdown should be very informative.

    • ErmingtonPlumbing

      It would be in the interests of VCs renumeration packages to have such breakdowns continue to be,…unavailable.

      The VC of Oxford University is only on 615k per annum.
      What are our VCs on here?
      It’s a over a Million isn’t it?

    • No such skill shortage exists – you should know that by now.

      No, these vibrants have three functions. First, they keep the local wages low by undercutting the locals. Their contribution is to keep the local CPI numbers in check. Second, they add to the local demands for houses. Their contribution is to keep the great Strayan real estate bubble afloat and also keep the local bankers and real estate agents employed. Third, they get mugged and roughed up by the locals once in a while. Their contribution is to steer the wrath of the locals away from the ruling class.

      See? How invaluable these vibrants are to the ruling class!!

  4. Students are one issue. The other is the lecturer at the front of the class teaching the course. When I was doing my engineering degree at RMIT I remember multiple lecturers that we could not understand at all. This was entirely due to their very poor english abilities and heavy accents. Its one issue having students who cannot understand a course, but for an Australian Citizen going to one of the big Australian Universities to not be able to understand a course due to language gaps of the TEACHER, that is very much an issue also.

    • If we employ vibrant lecturers, then there will be no need for English requirements.
      10am lecture in English
      11am lecture in Vibrant Dialect

  5. Calling tenders for the additional supply of wet and soggy lettuce leaves by the state and federal departments.

  6. TEQSA is simply auditing ELICOS providers who deliver English language courses to students, this is not the root cause of the problem. The majority of international students who arrive here do not enter into Higher Education courses via an ELICOS pathway, they enrol directly with nothing more than an IELTS certificate, no further diagnostic assessment is undertaken of their English language skills, this audit is simply TEQSA protecting its mates in the Higher Education sector.

  7. Governments haven’t listened to the Productivity Commission’s take on mass immigration, so why would governments listen to them now on the foreign student racket?

  8. Oh today’s comments are so funny. Love it. No wonder this country is such an incompetent mess. These PR-hungry graduate twits remain only to get employed on their shonky qualifications and provide the country with their third world self-serving service. How many times I’ve actually called Australian call centres and had to say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t understand you”…no wonder I can’t… They not only need to raise the English entry standards, but the personal hygiene standards too as Sydney buses are becoming unbearable. If you’ve worked on a construction site all day, fair enough. But first thing in the morning? Australian people should not be impeded by someone who can’t speak the language…the whole thing is a joke. They have ample opportunity to learn English, but I rarely hear it being spoken amongst them. So many I know with PRs who have a vocabulary of 10 words.

  9. There also needs to be a test on accepting Australian laws before entering this country, especially if a woman has to remind you of them. The English standard is much higher in comparison.

  10. You couldn’t make this stuff up. Life imitates art. A new job ad.

    “Senior Student Experience Coordinator to join our ** vibrant ** and dynamic Faculty of Business and Law. This role is responsible for implementing and managing projects and initiatives with the goal of enhancing student experience. You will increase ****student attraction **** and retention by identifying and developing proposals …..

  11. I don’t recall who said it, but someone commented that some schools are just a sign-in front to gain citizenship. I was talking to a “student” yesterday. I asked what he was studying. He told me and said, “Well, we go and sign in and they say we study”. I said, “Do you sit in the class?”. “No”, he said, “We just sign in and go”. I said, “Why not study?” He said, “Because we just say student – only want citizenship”. I said, “But why not study?” He said, “I can speak English, but I can’t write English”. I said, “How long have you been in Australia?” He said, “7 years”. At least he’s honest about it.

    • @tahly yep, the problem is the relevant Vocational and Higher Education regulators refuse to acknowledge this practice.

    • The salary threshold for getting a PR visa needs to be increased. No man should be given a PR visa unless he is paying at least $30k/year to the ATO.