International student fallout becomes too big to ignore

Last week’s damning report on Australia’s international trade from the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) has finally awoken the mainstream media to the substantial hidden costs arising from our universities’ extreme over-exposure to international students.

In its report, the CIS warned that Australia’s universities have badly lowered standards to gain the world’s biggest per capita intake of international students:

Australian universities routinely compromise admissions standards to accommodate international students. Preparatory programs for students with lower English language test scores function as a paid work-around for international students who do not meet admissions standards. By prominently marketing such alternative pathways, Australian universities are in effect taking actions that reduce their financial risks by increasing their standards risks…

Measured on a per capita basis, Australia now hosts more international students than any other major country in the world, as depicted in Figure 2…

The fact that international students pay much higher fees than domestic ones for the same courses strongly incentivises universities to reduce admissions and academic standards to accommodate international students. Alternative admissions routes that allow international students to circumvent English language requirements and the widespread use of commission-based brokers invite willful negligence and outright abuse, as reported in the ABC Four Corners program ‘Cash Cows’. This program reported on issues at less-prestigious universities like Central Queensland, Southern Cross and Murdoch, but similar issues exist even at Australia’s most highly-respected institutions.

In response, a group of journalists at The SMH penned the following damning expose over the weekend:

Since the numbers of overseas students studying in Australia began sky-rocketing in 2013, bringing billions of dollars with them, there have been concerns the cash bonanza might come at a cost. Universities have been accused of compromising standards, of cosying up to foreign governments to protect lucrative markets, and of unintentionally creating national security problems through their research collaborations…

Some politicians and analysts worry Australian universities have made a strategic mistake in their reliance on international students; that in their efforts to raise funds and get involved in top international research, they have over-reached and left themselves vulnerable. “The universities have sold their souls,” says Clive Hamilton, author of Silent Invasion: China’s Influence In Australia. “They’ve given Beijing, the Chinese Communist Party, a very big lever”.

…reliance on international students forces universities into an exhausting cycle. To appeal to the overseas student market, a university needs to be high in the global rankings; to climb that ladder, they need to produce internationally-cited research and collaborate with prestigious institutions: to do that, they need to attract top researchers with salaries, teams and facilities; to cover those, they need fees from international students…

Financial vulnerability is one thing. But defence authorities are now worrying about something more difficult to define: that the intensity of research collaboration with China is creating holes in Australia’s national security. They worry universities are unintentionally allowing sensitive technology and data to pass into the hands of a potentially hostile government…

My cousin, Dr Peter van Onselen, also warned that many international students are using Australia’s higher education system purely for backdoor permanent residency:

Australian universities effectively are being used by governments as a backdoor visa pro­gram to pump new money into the economy (the sector is our third largest export industry) and to enlarge the skilled population base paying taxes, to ensure national economic growth prevents us dipping into a technical recession…

We are about to surpass Britain as the nation with the most overseas students. Proportionate to the size of our population, we are already well out in front…

Australian top-tier universities [are] using lower standards of entry than mid-tier lower-ranked universities abroad.

Some Coalition MPs have now also demanded that universities reduce their exposure to international students:

Australian universities have been warned against relying too heavily on any particular group of students to keep their coffers full.

Education Minister Dan Tehan has expressed the sentiment, after one of his colleagues said he believes some universities are too dependent on international students for their livelihood…

Several coalition MPs expressed concerns this weekend about the potential for foreign interference, including from the Chinese Communist Party, at Australian universities.

None of these issues will be new to readers of MB, given we have been beating the drum on this topic for years.

Nevertheless, it is great to see the international student rort finally reach mainstream consciousness, as well as our enabling politicians.

The international student problem has finally become too big to ignore.

Unconventional Economist


  1. Aust unis dont look like they did even 20 years ago.

    Jam em in wall to wall diversity and pc to the extreme.

    All soul has been ripped out of the place rather like this country

    • Speaking of not looking like what they used to, I commute via a bus that goes past UNSW. At UNSW, it’s not unusual to see 30 students hop on, to get to Central. What is unusual: seeing even one non-Asian in that queue. That’s not diversity. It’s a new monoculture, and it’s no more desirable than the old monoculture.

  2. Unis are finished. Lifetime earnings for tradies are better on average than for grads. Dull and boring Australian businesses and governments are mostly incapable of turning good research into new and improved businesses at scale. So wtf do we need unis for except for producing public servants. Close at least 1 uni in each state, maybe more. Better still, sell them to the Chinese who can rebuild them brick by brick in China just like they have done with factory purchases. They will probably have more use for them.

    • Soon tradies are going to be finished as well

      if chinese wanted to buy and rebuild unis brick by brick they would probably prefer one of the 500+ year old european universities to get some tradition for the same price

  3. You need to provide the context here that Universities are being forced to take on more international students in light of a) cuts to Higher Education spending by both major parties over decades and b) the marketization of Universities which causes huge waste, necessitating an ever growing budget (e.g. marketing budgets, pointless vanity campus upgrades, growth of bullshit administration jobs)

    • the current staffing levels at universities are only sustained via the mass importation of overseas students who are simply here to obtain a migration outcome, the system has no credibility at all.

    • 100%. The fix is to restore funding levels and additionally ensure that there are minimum entry standards nationally for certain course types. An ATAR minimum of say 70 is a good start.

    • Yep. Academic positions have fallen while bureaucratic bullsh!t positions continue to rise all in the name of taking on more ‘custormers.’

  4. PalimpsestMEMBER

    “The international student problem has finally become too big to ignore.” We are World Class in our ability to ignore problems or paper over the cracks.

      • Yes, I was also struck by the irony that one side of this (perceptive) analogy was called in to write a report about the other side. It takes a thief to catch a thief!

  5. Good interview on radio national this morn. Very patronising simplistic stuff from the uni VC, that was well deconstructed.

    • Heard it too, love how the vice chancellor stumbled in response to the comment from the host about not selling knives to people who you know will do harm, really laid bare the complete moral abdication of our university leaders, really is there anything they won’t do for money or people they won’t take one from? How about a bit of moral leadership for once? And what a load of croc to say that the percentage of Chinese students at Sydney university is the same as the percentage of globally mobile students, tell that to someone sitting in a master of commerce lecture that is 97 percent Chinese!

    • From the comment section SMH story: “Let’s be clear. The so-called “White Australia Policy”, i.e. the immigration restriction act wasn’t based on the racial hatred or white supremacy of our nation’s forefathers. It was based on wanting to preserve the English culture in Australia, a tiny country in terms of population at the time, and fear of the power of a hugely populous Asia.”

      IMO generations of Australians were deliberately indoctrinated with shame of WAP through education. I didn’t know I was racist since birth until I went to primary school mid 70’s – that’s when it started. Likely in anticipation of naughties diversity & vibrancy economic plan. At uni also got a dose of badness of China through late 60s early 70s Cultural Revolution & said fallout.
      Seems the immigration operates exclusively from YAP (Yellow Australia Policy) and WAP has been well and truly scrapped so that’s a win for morality, diversity & virtue signallers…come on Ozzie come on! Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie Oi Oi Oi …international perception – we’re PIGS!!