Universities slash entry standards for international students

ABC Four Corners’ recent report on Australia’s international student trade, entitled “Cash Cows”, provided damning evidence that Australian universities have badly lowered entry and teaching standards in a bid to entice large numbers of lower-quality, full fee-paying international students:

“In terms of attracting international students, universities will do whatever they need to do…they are the cash cows. There is no doubt about it.” Academic

In spite of Four Corners’ expose, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) over the weekend announced that it wants to delay lifting English language requirements for international students in a bid to further bolster enrolment numbers:

The university has already paused “further upward changes to academic and English requirements [for oveseas students] until market conditions improve,” the meeting was told…

Agents recruit students in overseas markets and claim a slice of tuition fees as commission.

To boost international numbers, UNSW is also considering waiving more application fees, launching more international scholarships and trialling a China call centre, or “offshore contact hub”, next year…

The UNSW presentation revealed that total domestic revenue for term one was $198 million, and total international revenue was $266 million…

A spokeswoman for UNSW said it now had more international students on campus than ever before, “and we are proud to have one of the world’s largest global student communities”.

UNSW has experienced explosive growth in international students. As shown in the below Department of Education and Training chart, international student enrolments at UNSW have more than tripled from 6,491 in 2000 to 20,202 in 2017:

Indeed, UNSW had the equal second largest share of commencing international students in Australia, whose share has also ballooned from 30.2% in 2012 to 42.9% in 2017:

At the same time, full-time non-academic staff numbers at UNSW have ballooned from 2,570 in 2000 to 3,582 in 2017 – an increase of 1,012. By comparison, academic staff numbers have risen from 1,927 in 2000 to 3,297 – an increase of 1,370:

Therefore, UNSW appears to have spent much of its international student fee bonanza on padding its bureaucracy. This is a particular problem because most international students are from non-English speaking backgrounds and are higher maintenance than local students. That’s a double whammy for local students seeking a high quality education.

The truth is that Australia’s universities are opposed to higher English-language requirements because they are making out like bandits from the international student boom, and stricter requirements necessarily means fewer numbers and lower profits.

Sadly, the negative impacts on education standards, overcrowding in Australia’s major cities, and wages (given international students are key victims of exploitation and wage theft) are being ignored by universities and policy makers alike.

[email protected]

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.

Latest posts by Unconventional Economist (see all)


  1. “Therefore, UNSW appears to have spent its international student fee bonanza on padding its bureaucracy, rather than on extra academic staff.”

    Classic managerialism. The institution has implemented a top-down management system based upon a corporate model where the focus is on profitability and ‘marketing’ of their ‘product’. Typically the down side is socialised (worn by the Australian domestic student) and the rewards delivered in over inflated performance based pay for VCs – who are the new CEOs of the university system.

    This is a tragedy and a hallmark of how our university system is failing. Universities should make their funding from innovation – not as degree factories. Those that flog degrees are failing in their prime duty.

    This ranking is probably the only one that matters – the 100 most innovative universities. Of course, no Australian university makes the list:


    It is very clear that the cost of our neoliberal university system is to our national innovation, creativity and home grown industry. What we are doing in Australia is a potent indicator that we have failed in innovation and are selling the silverware for a fast buck.

    History will judge the architects of this scam very harshly.

    • Strange Economics

      Great explanation… The purpose of privatisation without competition is to increase the top level salaries, while reducing the cost of the large number of , in this case, teaching staff.

      But they have innovated – they’ve turned education into a real estate rental and purchase scheme to feed the FIRE…

  2. Universities should make their funding from innovation – not as degree factories. 

    Universities should not make money but rather spend public money in a way that benefits society the most.
    Degrees are not the goal of education but rather its metric (poor kind).
    Classical example of Campbell’s/Goodhart’s law

    History will judge the architects of this scam very harshly.

    We just gave one of the crators the greatest state funeral ever

    • DominicMEMBER

      Nice sentiments doc but you’re wishing for a utopia that won’t/can’t exist. Human beings, for the most part, are selfish and act in their self interest. Explaining to us all what they ‘should be doing’ is just pie in the sky.

      The bottom line is: the Govt has created a very lucrative loophole and the Unis are responding in kind. Create any opportunity and a human being (somewhere) will exploit it. End of.

      • Unis were quite good for a while in spending money efficiently (low number of staff relative to number of students, small bureaucracy, low paid management…) while benefiting society (created all these things around us and advanced fundamental science).
        It’s been only in last few decades that unis were allowed tobdo this crazy corporation that lad to higher costs and poorer outcomes.
        But with the diminishing of productive industries our lords needed something to make money and employ plebs so education, healthcare, public utilities… became an obvious and only choice

  3. – This is ONE of MANY ways of how increased productivity UNDERMINES an economy.
    – The economic / financial impact of increased productivity is very poorly understood.

    • DominicMEMBER

      There is no increased productivity here — just an old fashioned rort.

      Productivity increases are the only way an economy can grow — not the Keynesian Govt ‘borrow n spend’ model we have now, which is a sure route to the poorhouse.

      • – I knew I would get a reaction like this on this reply.
        – O yes, there is a relationship between increased productivity and the need for universities to “attrackt” foreign students (“cash cows”) and sub standard teaching. But one has “to dig” a little deeper than this.
        – Let’s assume a company that produces 100,000 units (bricks, cars, pencils, sugar, milk, …..) per month. They do that with say 100 workers/employees each earning AUD 1,000 a month. Then total wage costs is AUD 100,000. But then demand (from these employees) is also AUD 100,000 (assuming they don’t take on more debt which would increase demand).
        – Now this company increases productivity by producing the same amount of units/stuff but now with say 90 employees each still earning A$ 1,000. Then costs have gone down from A$ 100,000 to (90 x 1,000) A$ 90,000. But income of those 100 (NOT 90) workers has gone down to $ 90,000 and demand has gone down to A$ 90,000 as well.
        – This increased productivity has another negative impact. Think: Payroll taxes !!!!!! Instead of collecting payroll taxes for 100 workers the government now collects payroll taxes for only 90 (!!!) workers. This decrease in payroll taxes means that the government has to cut spending somewhere else. E.g. the amount of money the universities receive from the state and federal government.

    • DominicMEMBER

      You’re making a number of unreasonable assumptions:
      – firstly that the 10 laid off workers don’t get re-employed elsewhere (highly unlikely in a growing, productive economy)
      – secondly that there is $10,000 of ‘missing demand’. What if each had been saving a portion of their wages? There’d be no ‘missing demand’.

      – if the company’s costs have gone down $10k, then all else being equal, their profits would have gone up by the same figure
      – higher profits equals higher company taxes going to the Govt, no?
      – higher profits either get A) reinvested in the business to grow it or B) go into shareholder pockets, available to spend in the economy.
      – finally, contrary to popular opinion, spending does not drive the economy – savings and production do.

      • – No, those 10 laid off workers won’t get a new job because demand has dropped by A$ 10,000 as a result of laying off those same 10 workers. Only by taking on (more) debt we can offset that reduction in demand. And that’s precisely what we have done since say the early 1990s. And the rise of (australian) debt has been facilitated by falling interest rates. (No, the FED or the RBA is NOT responsible for lowering those rates, It was a force called “Mr. Market”.)
        – (Increased) Saving actually REDUCES Demand. That’s why e.g. the US economy is much weaker after the year 2008 in comparison to the US economy before the year 2008.
        – Yes, those 10 workers may have savings but those savings won’t last for ever. Some day those savings will be depleted.
        – Production is neutral and follows demand. If all of our 25 million fellow australians buy one smartphone then total demand for smartphones is 25 million. But after having sold 25 million smartphones demand will drop to a much, much lower level. Then producers of smartphones will be forced to reduce the production of smartphones.and lay off workers. Supply & Demand, remember ?
        – Think of Steve Keen’s famous formula: Income + change in debt = (aggregate) demand. When a person saves (money) then the change of debt is negative. Keen has shown 2 charts that shows that there is a relationship. between the growth of debt and (the growth of) employment in the australian and US economy.
        – Don’t get me wrong: I don’t like taking on (more) debt either but it’s sometimes inevitable (think: buying a house with a mortgage).
        – Keep also in mind: a socalled “business cycle” is ALWAYS a “Credit cycle”. No matter what I like or dislike.

      • – “Production & Savings drive an economy” ??? I am sorry but this is utter Austrian School nonsense. Supply & Demand drives an economy. We can increase both Supply and Demand by increasing credit. With credit a company can build a factory to produce something.
        – The economy is a “zero sum” game. Let’s assume that there are 2 persons in an economy: Dominic & Willy2. Let’s assume that both Dominic & Willy2 start with A$ 1000. When Dominic makes a profit (=savings) of say A$ 50 then those A$ 50 comes from Willy2. But then the situation changes. Dominic now has A$ 1050 and Willy2 now has $ 950. Zero sum game !!!!
        – The only way to get more money into the system is to increase the amount of credit.
        – Payroll taxes make up the bulk of the tax revenues here in Australia but it applies to other countries (e.g. the US) as well.

    • I think we might have to call it a day right here. I am an unabashed ‘Austrian’ having been taught Keynesian/Monetarist theory through school and University (including 2 post-grads). Discovering the Austrian School later in life was like an epiphany — suddenly everything became obvious. The Austrian School appeals to people who prefer pure logic while the K/M schools are preferred by people who expect (or prefer) near impenetrable complexity (and lots of it).

      You and I continuing to debate this subject is useful as Richard Dawkins and The Pope getting together and hoping to agree on something. I’ll say it straight up: Keynesian (and Monetarist) theory is utter bollox, which is why we (the world) find ourselves in this debt-addled mess, not to mention the huge wealth inequality that has arisen from the same. Let’s discuss something else instead.

    • Walking the streets of our cities, and working in offices, it is becoming more clear that English is less the standard and now, anything goes.

      You have whole families walking around speaking other languages than English, loudly anywhere, anytime – and these aren’t tourists.

      Very exclusionary.

      There is a total disregard for the locals and a sense of unity.

  4. Were these universities paid for by the taxpayer for the taxpayer? Fewer places left for locals … shocking!