Aussie university puts brakes on international student rorts

May’s Four Corners special on Australia’s international student trade accused Australia’s universities of badly lowering their standards in a bid to lift students numbers, which have nearly doubled since 2013, as shown in the next chart:

In particular, Four Corners presented interviews with various university insiders, who reported alarming cases of plagiarism, academic misconduct, and rising failure rates among international students.

Immediately following this damning Four Corners report, the University of Tasmania (UTAS) announced that it would tighten English-language requirements and launched a review into admissions practices for international students.

Yesterday, UTAS accepted all 19 recommendations from an external review of its international recruitment and admissions practices:

In May, UTAS announced the external review would be conducted by Professor Hilary Winchester following an ABC Four Corners investigation, which contained allegations that Australian universities had been waiving their English-language entry standards in order to attract more high-paying international students…

Several recommendations to improve academic governance oversight have been made, with the review calling the existing oversight “weak”.

The review acknowledges the University has recently made a strategic shift from rapid to sustainable growth in international student numbers, which “will have financial and organisational implications.”

26 per cent of the university’s total student demographic were international students in 2018, 50 per cent of which undertook informal testing labelled “Other Form of Testing which satisfies the Institution” and 3 per cent did not sit a test.

The review revealed that last year, 919 international students were admitted to UTAS through an informal method of demonstrating English proficiency that the University is no longer accepting. The review also found students entering through informal entry points have a higher than average failure rate.

The reviewer requested standard reports of student performance by cohort, country, basis of admission and “students at risk”. Initially, UTAS was unable to provide the reports because they had failed to regularly produce performance data. The University will now provide performance reports each semester to the Academic Senate…

Winchester highlights that students with low entry standards are more prone to breaches of academic integrity, and recommends UTAS updates its policy framework to ensure a more centralised approach in penalties for academic misconduct…

In an email sent to staff and students, UTAS Vice-Chancellor Professor Rufus Black said the review has identified areas where the university can and must do better.

“It is imperative that any student, regardless of their origin, has evidence of an English language proficiency level that will allow them to succeed in their student journey,” he said.

UTAS could be criticised for a very quick review performed by an external person who is still on the inside of the sector. However, on face value at least, the intention and words are in the right direction.

Now contrast this with Murdoch University, which was criticised heavily by Four Corners for achieving a 92% surge in international students numbers between 2017 and 2018 by dropping English language standards and “dumbing down” courses in the pursuit of profit.

In the weeks following the Four Corners report, Murdoch University Vice Chancellor, Professor Eeva Leinonen, vigorously refuted the allegations made in the report by lecturers, and even made the outlandish claim that they were “probably racist” for making the irrefutable claim that the university was using international students as “cash cows”:

“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”.

While it is great to see UTAS take proactive steps to clean up its own international student trade, other Australian universities are unlikely to do the same. They are hooked on the easy revenue and profits that come from selling dumbed down degrees en masse.

Our vice chancellors and senior university administrators are effectively acting like bank executives, claiming there is nothing wrong and that their institutions are acting in the best interests of their students and educational standards.

Expecting universities to self-regulate is clearly not going to work. Instead, the federal government needs to enlist the Productivity Commission to undertake a warts-and-all review of the tertiary education sector, in order to ascertain the true costs and benefits of the international student trade for Australia.

Leith van Onselen
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  1. Every industry that hs been let to self regulate ends up being corrupted. Banking, residential building and now education. When will the govt learn that it i their job to regulate stuff.

  2. Self-regulation is to regulation as self importance is to importance. Another unacknowledged truth behind the failure of neoliberalism…

    • DominicMEMBER

      This has nothing to do with self-regulation. This wouldn’t be an issue at all if ‘education’ hadn’t been made an explicit route to PR.

      It really is that black and white. Without a route to PR the only students that would come are those that could afford it and genuinely wanted to be educated here. End of.

  3. That’s terrible – students learning to lie, cheat and scam. Where’s that going to get them when they graduate into the real economy?

  4. kiwikarynMEMBER

    We need a non-“racist” term for cash cow that will appease the University snowflakes. How about we refer to them as “international maximum fee generating units”? We can compare them to the “domestic minimum fee generating units”.

    • The bulk of Indians venerate the cow. It should be taken as a compliment to be compared to such a blessed creature.

      • blacktwin997MEMBER

        Not only that, the majority of Chinese worship cash. I can’t think of a better descriptor for vibrant diversity within the Australian education PR industry than ‘cash cow’. There’s something for everyone!

        Although to be honest the only people getting upset about the term seem to exclusively be non-vibrant emotionally incontinent outrage glands.

  5. This needs a Royal Commission, forget about the Productivity Commission. University vice-chancellors, Treasury and the Depts of Immigration and Education are all in on this. The great undermining of Australian education, so the neoliberals can claim to have lowered taxes and boosted GDP growth.

    • There is great work done by the Productivity Commission.

      The question is why is the Productivity Commission work not covered by the ABC and mainstream media, as well as by policiticians and policy makers?