International students drive “alarming” rise in cheating at Australian universities

Over the past six years, Australia has experienced an unprecedented boom in international students, whose numbers have nearly doubled to around 613,000, according to the Department of Home Affairs:

One of the unfortunate side effects of this student explosion is that it has corresponded with a dramatic rise in cheating at Australia’s universities, alongside an erosion of overall education standards.

In 2014, international students from China were implicated in a widespread ghost-writing scandal, of whom whistleblowing academics labelled “functionally illiterate“.

In 2015, ABC’s Four Corners aired a disturbing report, entitled “Degrees of Deception”, which claimed that cheating was widespread across Australia’s universities, and featured an academic accusing half of the international students of plagiarism [my emphasis]:

With thousands of students often struggling with English, the pressure to pass is helping to fuel a black market…

ZENA O’CONNOR: I’m, I’m staggered by the increase in plagiarism. Ah, to start with: in my experience, it was a very small proportion – you know, maybe two, three, four per cent. I would peg it now at being much, much higher: well over 50 per cent.

LINTON BESSER: The academics who have spoken out tonight are not alone in their concerns. In our research for this program, we spoke with scores of academics around Australia. The vast majority had witnessed or personally experienced the pressure to ignore plagiarism and to pass weak students.

Also in 2015, 70 international students across New South Wales were caught up in a cheating racket, prompting the state’s Independent Commission Against Corruption to demand that universities take decisive action.

Last year, an ABC investigation claimed that “English language standards are often too low or can be sidestepped via loopholes, and that students are often put in stressful classroom situations that can lead to cheating”.

In January this year, international student associations demanded greater regulation of overseas education agents amid concerns of widespread cheating on English language tests.

In May, Four Corners aired another shocking report, entitled “Cash Cows”, which again documented more plagiarism, academic misconduct, and rising failure rates among international students.

And shortly after this Four Corners expose aired, domestic students from Perth’s Murdoch University claimed “some international students were trying to circumvent the language gap by plagiarising their assignments or contracting outside sources for help”.

With this background in mind, The AFR yesterday reported that the level of cheating across Australia’s universities is increasing at an “alarming rate”:

Researcher Tracey Bretag said cheating has spread like wildfire across all universities and TAFEs, including her own, the University of South Australia.

“For every assessment that I set, and despite the fact that I spend a great deal of time in class talking about academic integrity, I still encounter examples of contract cheating,” she said.

She said university students who buy their way through their degree by paying someone to do their assignments and sit their exams are a “risk to society… they won’t be fit for professional practice”…

Dr Bretag said students can specify what grade they would like for the assignments, which can also be tailored to sound like the student if English is their second language…

The boom in cheating is largely the result of the commercialisation of Australia’s university system. Universities have dropped entry standards so low, in a bid to boost enrolment numbers, that almost any international student now qualifies to study provided they can pay the fee. And because these students have paid so much for entry, and lack the basic English language proficiency to succeed, they inevitably turn to cheating services.

A culture has been created whereby higher education is now viewed as a commodity for purchase, rather than something to be earned. And this has been aided and abetted by greedy universities more concerned about maximising student throughput, fees and profits than providing a quality educational experience to students.

Given the conga-line of scandals, it’s time for a royal commission into the whole rotten university system.

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Unconventional Economist

Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. Leith is an economist and has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.

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  1. We should never have ended the WAP. The seeds of Australia’s unravelment were sown in 1973.

    • nexus789MEMBER

      Australia was doomed after the signing of the Lima Agreement and the de-industrialisation of the Western world.

  2. Well what do you know, how could it be like this? The seeds were sown a very long time ago. Sometime in the 70’s I would guess, and extended big time in the 80’s. Well done you genius educators! They are still at it just in their ivory towers. Looking over us as though they are the one’s with all knowledge. Total crap of course.

  3. Mining BoganMEMBER

    Only “alarming” for those who still think our universities are for education and not people smuggling.

  4. Jumping jack flash

    An RC? They’re just doing business as best they can as a quasi-privatised entity.

    A story: recently i had to present my thesis at the uni i study at externally. Its a stem course (STEAM now, I’m not sure what the A is for yet) There were many overseas students with varying levels of English proficiency, as expected. What wasn’t expected was the incredibly high standard of their powerpoint presentations! They put mine to shame with their awesome figures and polished graphics. These guys were clearly professional powerpoint masters yet seemed completely unprepared regarding what was actually in the presentation – and possibly their entire thesis work.

    • ha ha ha!

      They might have paid someone to make the PowerPoint presentations. Are you sure they were using Microsoft PowerPoint?

      January 7, 2003—Apple® today unveiled Keynote™, a new generation of presentation software that brings the ability to create stunning, professional-quality presentations to everyone. Featuring Apple’s legendary ease of use, Keynote includes professionally designed themes, amazing typography, pro-quality image resizing, animated charts and tables that can be created in seconds, and cinematic-quality transitions.

      • Jumping jack flash

        Yes was powerpoint. I was the only one who didnt use it.


        And yes, obviously paid someone to make it.

      • Jumping jack flash

        The main point was that these guys seemed totally surprised each time a new slide appeared, and seemed to have no recollection of any of their thesis work during the post-presentation “grilling session”.

        Might be nerves.. but… yea it just didn’t smell right.

        I guess if they churn out at the end of the degree and cant actually engineer anything they could always have an illustrious career in typesetting or graphic design…

    • Yeah I hate this whole STEM vs STEAM thing, btw the A is for Arts and Humanities.
      From what I’ve seen in Secondary education improvements the Politicians are interested in STEM and want every proposal for funding increases to somehow fit some STEM agenda. Trouble is most teachers are weak in STEM but still want to pick up some extra funding so they’ve attached their little Arts wagon to the STEM (now STEAM) train.
      I’ve see all kinds of BS passed off as STEAM but what can you expect when our schools are controlled by exactly the same teachers coming from the same Teachers colleges with the same Humanities focus and the same disdain for anything truly STEM.

  5. Is the money paid for cheating (ghost writing etc.) counted as part of the $32Billion in export income?

  6. 50% of those almost 700k students never even sat a exam. They barely ever get to visit their visa issuing institution

    • I’m Curious how this is possible?
      From what I saw ,when my son was in Uni here in Australia, about 50% of his grade was from exams (and he sucked at taking exams) . It’s funny because I’m the exact opposite I always did well on exams, so I looked for courses where the majority of the marks came from the final exam, I hated all the BS projects with BS deadlines and an incompetent team to help me….I’d take the exam route every time.

      • majority of those 650k students don’t study at universities, they are just enrolled into some fake (usually English language) course at some fake educational institution – all just to get visa that let’s them come and stay in Australia

      • @fisho the rise in distance ed. might also account for the lack of exams. I’m completing a Bachelor’s at Central Queensland Uni online, as the course isn’t available at any Perth Uni. Out of 13 units, so far only 2 have had exams… everything else is assignments. I know it’s hard for them to administer exams in an online course, but yeah it would be very easy to get every assignment ghostwritten and get straight HDs without lifting a finger.

  7. Then the cheats become Permanent Residents and cheat the country in new ways, including welfare and tax fraud, business fraud, ripping off staff, and supporting visa fraud.

  8. Why are we importing people from questionable cultures en masse?

    Let’s be honest, mass immigration from the subcontinent has been a disaster and will continue to be a disaster that will fester for a very long time.

    • johnoconnorMEMBER

      This was official immigration policy until at least 1972:

      Conditions of immigration into Australia

      Australia’s immigration policy is directed towards the maintenance of a socially cohesive and homogeneous nation. It seeks to avoid the creation of permanent minority groups resistant to integration even through successive generations. The policy does not exclude persons of any ethnic origin; but it does exercise prudent caution in the matter of accepting large numbers of people with substantially different backgrounds, characteristics and customs who may resist general integration even in the long term.

      From: Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia No. 58, 1972

      • nexus789MEMBER

        “Socially cohesive and homogeneous nation”…they are taking the piss as dimwitted venal politicians do.

  9. 712,000 foreign students & partners onshore.
    🔹612,000 foreign students (primary visa)
    + 🔻68,000 foreign student ‘partners’ (secondary visa full work rights no English test)
    + 🔻28,000 DFAT scholarships & special visas

    = 712,000 foreign students & partners.

    Over 90% third world unskilled on a fake pretext & nonsense course, often with no international accreditation.
    Over 90% concentrated in Sydney & Melbourne.
    Not an export
    They only bring in at best $2.4 billion of funds – offer ‘self declared’ or extensively frauded along with the fake doc & fake health checks.

    Over 75% or 534,000 work illegally.
    (SMH – UTS & Sydney Uni studies / illegal working)

    They do form a $33 billion onshore GDP sub economy
    712,000 x $46.3k ‘economic activity’ (Treasury)
    Lowering Australian gdp per Capita by 6%.

    They only pay $8.3 billion in fees for the visa alibi
    From money earned illegally here.
    Not an export, but a liability.

    They create Australia unemployment impact of at least 500,000 Australian unemployed costing $9.3 billion in dole payments alone – and lower wages for all Australians – esp our youth & mature age unskilled who they steal employment from by some 8% costing tens of billions.
    Not an export but a liability.

    They have degraded our education down 10 placesz globally – costing tens of billions.
    They have destroying Australian youth and young families housing affordability.
    Not an export but a liability.

    They create massive congestion and contention in public transport and infrastructure costing tens of billions.
    Not an export but a liability.

    They are the epicentre of foreign run vice and crime in Australia, money laundering, drugs, prostitution.
    Not an export but a liability.

    They have very low progression into a skilled or professional vocation – less than 3.6% ever achieve a high income profession here or in their home country exposing the farce of this so called ‘education’

    Not a high value human capital resource but in fact third world migrant guestworker poor on a pretext visa , only here to work & live illegally, secure a PR and be an anchor for chain migration.

    The foreign student industry ?
    Not an export but a massive negative social & economic liability – that costs Australians tens of billions of dollars.

    Needs a Royal Commission.

  10. If someone were to start a new university, if that is even possible in this closed shop, what would it be? More specifically, what would the university do (diffently) if someone was motivated by having bridges that work and nurses who can do maths? An elite university, that set entry high and primarily employed academics (no fake academic provosts) and extolled ideas and argument. I genuinely believe such an entity could be very successful I Australia. A degree from it would mean something (again). Employers would come knocking. Students would compete to get in. Academics would love to work there. Heck you could insist students had to be on campus and interact.

  11. Criminalisation of corporates that facilitate cheating is on the cards. It’s listed in the government’s legislative agenda for the new year.