Proof international students are dumbing down universities

I attended university in the mid-to-late 1990s, back when a degree was not a commodity to be sold for profit and the international student trade was largely non-existent.

Over the four years that I undertook my honours degree in Commerce, I never once performed a group assignment. My assignments were my sole responsibility and the quality of my work determined by mark.

Fast forward 20 years and the structure of university courses has shifted 180-degrees. Universities are now bonafide businesses and degree factories, whose business models rely on a growing influx of full fee-paying international students in order to maximise revenue.

Nearly all of these international students come from non-English speaking backgrounds (NESB), primarily China, India and Nepal, as illustrated in the next chart:

In order to ensure that these NESB students pass their courses, universities have restructured teaching and implemented group assessments that pair local students with international students. And this has predictably resulted in domestic students doing most of the work and effectively cross-subsidising the marks of international students.

Meshel Laurie – host of the Australian True Crime Podcast – explained the process yesterday in Fairfax:

It’s a neat trick: group assessment (with groups allocated by instructors) in courses overloaded with full-fee-paying, non-English speaking students means the English speakers bear the burden of catching the others up, translating the course content for them and helping them pass.

I’m enrolled in the course myself by the way…. I’m five weeks into a Masters in Media and I’ve spent time in every class assisting non-English speaking students to comprehend the lesson and complete the set task…

The workload is overwhelming enough without having to piggyback someone else through it too. Just five weeks in I’m feeling the drain… The university assessment process is heavily weighted towards group activities…

“Group Assessment work enables the students to develop communication, cooperation and teamwork skills,” says a 2019 publication from my university titled “Assessment Processes”. The bloody cheek of it. It goes on, “Group assessment work is inclusive and accessible: it enables full participation by students from diverse backgrounds.” Mmm hmmm. It’s a pity the classes don’t.

“Group assessment reflects collaborative work in the relevant industry or profession.” Nope. I’ve never been on a film or television set where the crew is divided into two camps speaking different languages…

Separately, University of Melbourne Associate Professor, Allan Patience, claims that more needs to be done to ensure that domestic students mix with international students:

University of Melbourne Associate Professor Allan Patience… said universities had failed at overcoming gaps between domestic and international students.

“We really need at first year level a whole lot of innovative curricula to introduce these two groups of students to each other,” Dr Patience said.

Language, racism and social barriers all prompt many international students to throw themselves into their studies, thus denying them opportunities to mix with Australian students, Dr Patience said.

By “innovative curricula” does Dr Patience mean more group assignments?

Let’s be real for a moment. Universities should exist first and foremost to educate Australians. And domestic students should not be forced to bend over backwards to ensure international students pass, and effectively be turned into unpaid tutors.

If universities wish to run international student businesses, they should have separate schools that cater to these students and their special needs instead of changing everything to cater for students who aren’t fluent in English.

Australians wouldn’t go study in China without speaking mandarin. Nor should international students study in Australia without being fluent in English.

Unconventional Economist


  1. i have fond memories of a particular subject when doing honours (the classwork component were masters level subjects).

    Lecturer had a rule that each group could only have 1 person from any given nationality. I teamed up with two girls from the US and Canada respectively. He laughed when he came over to make sure we’d understood the instructions. We aced that class.

    • reusachtigeMEMBER

      Group assignments sound ace and have so much potential. I’d be using them for every opportunity to score mixed and diverse relations. See people on here are hard wired negative but if they were to rewire themselves they’d find so many opportunities for pleasure and profit. Alas, they incel bro.

  2. Allan patience…kids you are going to have diversity shovelled down your throats whether you like it or not. My job depends on it

    You are racist if you want to go to an Australian uni and expect australian students there…its all about teaching failed 3rd world students who couldn’t get in at home so chose the easiest option to migrate to

    • Correct. This is what ‘freedom’ looks like to the intelligentsia.

      What is it with the political Left insisting on imposing their world view on the rest of us?

  3. Dodgy mass-produced apartments going hand in hand with dodgy mass-produced Masters degrees.

    If it’s Masters by coursework, stay away for the same reason that you should stay away from high rise dog-boxes. Both of these things were constructed at minimal cost, as fast as possible, to the dodgiest standard, yet billed at the maximum price to eager buyers. Both have been targeted at foreign buyers who seemingly have cash to burn, don’t know (or don’t really care) what they’re getting, and who are primarily interested in just getting into Australia. The Masters by coursework “degrees” are just as defective and overpriced as the apartments. Avoid.

    There is still quality out there, but it’s the older stuff. The Honours -> PhD channel can still worth something academically but exercise due diligence.

    In other news, we’ve seen a big decline in Chinese students here and it’s starting to bite. There was a Faculty meeting this morning and we were advised that layoffs are coming. A 20% reduction in paid-staffing levels for teaching. We are expected to make up for any teaching load shortfall by replacing lost staff with PhD students and postdocs (who are unpaid).

    • The unfortunate thing is the Higher Education regulator TEQSA refuses to enforce its own quality standards, which if it did, the situation with English language proficiency wouldn’t be as critical as it is now.

    • Diogenes the CynicMEMBER

      Surely they can cut their admin and marketing staff? Right? The area where staff numbers have ballooned by 500%! Or are they cutting academics to employ more marketing types?

      • kiwikarynMEMBER

        No, they need all those people to deal with all the complaints from Australian students about being stuck in classes with foreign students, and all the foreign students who are appealing their penalties for plagiarism and cheating.

      • They seem to be constantly engaged in big construction projects. Tons of money going into building more post-modern, multi-storey monstrosities. Management is also, as you suggest, as fat as ever and getting fatter. We’re taking it in the neck on the coalface, you know, the part where education is actually delivered. Who cares about that right?

    • Adambendickerson

      +1 on that!
      We had a meeting the other week, where my Dean told us to remove any discussions of human rights, Taiwan, Tibet or the democratic role of the news media from the curricula — apparently talking about stuff like that is not good for our China business.
      But it’s all good — our Vice Chancellor makes more than $1 million a year, so he *must* be doing a great job.

    • Sat on both sides of this – at a Go8 uni where the Masters by Coursework was clearly built for generating income and nothing else. I’m now in industry (best move I ever made, 10 years ago when the writing was already on the wall), and basically ignore any Masters by Coursework qualifications when I’m hiring.

      The “BD” staff being hired by the Universities is a joke. I was called to a meeting with a potential funder at the same Uni (as an industry rep), there were 3 Uni BD staff in the room. It was ridiculous.

      • I teach in some Masters by coursework units and do my best but I’ll freely admit that these things aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. You’re right to ignore such “qualifications” on resumes. If anything, it should be a red flag, ie, why didn’t the applicant do a REAL postgrad degree? (Honours project, Masters project, PhD). Did they not have the discipline and management skills to plan, execute and deliver (on time) a major research project?

        Masters by coursework is no different to undergrad.


  4. It is remarkable how the country’s elites have sold out the younger generation. Unpaid labor to grease the wheels for the chancellors.

  5. Over the four years that I undertook my honours degree in Commerce, I never once performed a group assignment. My assignments were my sole responsibility and the quality of my work determined by mark.

    No group assignments! That is incredible! And guess what? The economy still functioned without group assignments.

    We need to go back to that system. You know, the system that worked.

    Aussie students played basketball in a group at school and worked in a group in a KFC outlet. They also did plenty of group assignments in high school. But for the final VCE score, I think there was no group assignment. There is no need for group assignments at “uni” and every degree should be banned from having group assignments.

    Trusting the “unis” to not rip Aussies off is like Alan Greenspan trusting the market before Lehman Brothers collapsed.

    • Group assignments were always such a bludge.. I hated them really. Just always felt like pulling teeth. I always preferred to work on my own. Now in a big Corporation I still prefer to work solo, but companies love team work etc.. so don’t like it when you hoard your skills. Fine, so you take the time to try and reach others, but some are just apathetic and don’t absorb it. So feels like you’re wasting your time. Frustrating..

      • Yep, they embrace mediocrity instead of meritocracy. I have to assess group projects and they routinely fall far below the standard of an individual delivery. People in groups assign responsibility to everyone else and because they all do that, nobody takes responsibility until one group member says F it and basically does the whole thing themselves, knowing that they’re giving free marks to the bludgers.

        We try to compensate for this by tweaking individual marks when it’s obvious that some group members were slacking while others did all the work. The problem is that the results of shifting marks inevitably end up showing an ethnic bias and then we get a “please explain” from equity and inclusivity. I’ve had to take “implicit bias” training because my marking is “racist” which is to be expected because I’m one of those evil white males who is responsible for every single thing that’s wrong with the world, don’t ya know? Imagine their surprise when I aced their gee-whiz bias detection test with no evidence of bias whatsoever.

        You should get the marks you deserve based on your scholarship. It’s not rocket science. Instead we have a bunch of flat-earth social justice idiots forcing a failed ideology down our throats from above. It’s tiring to endlessly fight this nonsense and we’re all slowly capitulating.

  6. “Universities should exist first and foremost to educate Australians. And domestic students should not be forced to bend over backwards to ensure international students pass.”

    Someone should let the Higher Education regulator TEQSA know this.

  7. group assessments are about the only way most of foreign students can submit something university can use to justify passing them
    otherwise it would be so obvious that these degrees were just sold to them

  8. I read eco from 85, J, never even saw a foreigner and plenty of kids studying arts, lit and so on. I think we paid $125 Union sub and that was it, apart from text books. Closest we came to a group assignment was the discussion at the tute.

    MBA at Deakin early oughts – different story, $3k a unit and plenty of group assignments with the lack of overseas competency meant the group stepped up, effectively allowing the weakest links to pass, which was what the unis wanted, satisfied, fee paying students. So, yeah, MBA was worthless, as I should have known, but the Feds paid the fees as I was serving at the time

      • Yes, Gavin. which means that the Australian degrees being churned out now cannot be relied on as a good indicator of future work performance. Add to that the shortage (worsening) of job and career prospects for graduates (outside of med and law) and the tragedy that they had to pay to learn and are indebted before they even start on the job ladder. Tragic

        • career prospects for graduates (outside of med and law)

          It’s been a long, long time since law was an easy road to a job in Australia.

          Medicine was all set to go that way until the Feds decided in their wisdom to keeping bringing in 200,000+ a year under the lie that they are all fit, young, non smokers who will never get sick. The fact that the opposite is true for > 65% of migrants who lap up public hospital services within 12 months of arrival like a dog at a bubbler on a hot day is one of the more heavily censorsed bits of info that you never read about.

          • Smokers should not be given PR.

            PR should only be given onshore, by completing rigorous health checks done by Australian government medicals.

  9. rob barrattMEMBER

    Group assignments are absolutely essential in order to keep professional cheating fees to a minimum. Many students, but only one solution – available via the internet at a price. Everyone passes, the Chancellor picks up a fat fee.

    It’s all smiles! A win-win!!

  10. Academics don’t like group assignments either. With our new never-been-academic overloads, there are fewer academics per student, allocated less time per student to mark assessments. Often group assignments are about reducing marking workload. What l am seeing is demoralised academic staff just coping. The overloads work via KPIs. Having high fail rate means academics are doing something wrong. They’re probably culturally insensitive.

  11. This is what it is to have your country sold out from underneath you.
    There is no kidding ourselves anymore. We have been completely sold out. You. Your children. Future generations.
    A nation living in the thrall of corrupt and ineffectual politicians who have served up to the CCP a strategic foothold in this country.

    So that your taxes could be lowered. So that the value of your primary residence could be inflated. So you could have easy access to credit to buy all the property you wanted. So that you never had to be concerned about changing your lifestyle. So that businesses never had to concern themselves with productivity.

    And future generations are going to be eating this Chinese Shit Sandwich for decades.

    Enjoy your lower taxes and fully funded private pensions and 3 yearly Audi upgrades and beach houses and European river cruises.

    This was bought at the price of fucking over an entire country.

    • What’s the point of having an overvalued house in Melbourne or Sydney if you are only going to stay in Melbourne or Sydney?

      I understand there’s ego and also the ability to use your house as an asset-based ATM – but you can still do that if you house is worth $800K instead of $2m (less cash advancing value, but still a good deal of equity to leverage). Plus if investment properties are cheaper, you don’t need to your primary residence worth $2m if investment properties aren’t also overvalued.

  12. Well it’s been a while, but this one takes the cake…

    “Language, racism and social barriers all prompt many international students to…”

    Non whites are more racist than white people by definition, but f*ck, if there’s any environment where there are a whole bunch of timid, or approval seeking wanker desperate to display their “I’m not racist credentials” it’s a university campus.

    If peer bonding on university campus’ aren’t occurring, it’s due to the racism, entitled and exclusionary behaviour of international students, and no other factor.

    • kiwikarynMEMBER

      Not wanting to work with foreign students has nothing to do with racism. I’m sure people would be more than happy to do group work with Asian-Australians, who speak perfect English and graduated top of their class at high school. I’m also sure if you packed the Universities with non-English speaking imbeciles from France or Croatia, students would avoid them too, and not because they hate French or Croatian people.

      • There’s more to collegiate contact and peer bonding than group assignments.

        “Hi, how you doing, I haven’t seen you since we did that assignment last semester, how are you?.. Hello?”

  13. LOL,

    the title is a pearl.
    We use an opportunity to maximise profits by selling and dumbing down the meaning of Aussie degrees and diplomas, we make sure no student fails and somehow the title blames victims of a fraud?

  14. Good post, I was also at uni at the same time, and actually participated in demonstrations with the National Union of Students on campus and in Sydney opposing the derugalation of international student limitations because there was a fear that it would lead to exactly this sort of dependency on international students. And look what happened! Maybe if people paid attention to protesting students more often we wouldn’t screw up our shit so much.
    An interesting side note is that current NSW Greens MLC Jamie Parker was the then president of the NUS. So he himself was leading the charge against this deregulation and opening of the floodgates to dependency on international student intake. Maybe you could interview him for your opinion piece.