International students ripped off by Australian universities

It is fair to say that Australian universities’ international student boom could not have been achieved without dramatically lowering English-language standards, as well as restructuring assessments into group assignments to ensure non-English speaking background (NESB) international students pass.

As shown in the next chart, the three largest and fastest growing sources for international student enrolments – China, India and Nepal – are all NESB nations:

Therefore, in order to ensure a strong inflow of international student fees from these nations, universities are strongly incentivised to lower English standards. Indeed, to do otherwise would place their entire business models at risk.

Over the weekend, The Australian published an alarming article from Warwick Lough, a former Monash College English language teacher. Here, Lough warned that international students were being admitted into the university with barely functioning English-language proficiency, leaving them struggling in class:

[Lowe] said the university’s intensive English courses for international students did not give them enough language proficiency and left them struggling in university study. “This is not a grey area. It is an absurdity that they can enter with language which is wholly inadequate,” he said…

Mr Lough said most students who completed the English bridging courses at the college did not reach the standard of a 6.5 score in the IELTS English test that is the usual benchmark for international students to get entry to most ­degrees.

“In my view, most students at the end of the course appear to be well below 6.5”…

“The assessments are carefully crafted to allow about 90 per cent of students to pass.” He said speech and writing components of the internal test were often “very carefully rehearsed”…

Lough also contended that international students were being treated “dishonestly” and ripped-off by universities:

Two weeks ago, he sent a letter to all federal MPs outlining his concerns about international student English standards. In the letter, he said inter­national students were treated “dishonestly”.

“They don’t get value for money, they don’t get what they pay for,” he wrote.

“My view is that all but a tiny minority of former bridging students, on completion of their university degree, would have no chance of surviving a job interview or functioning in a workplace.”

Last month’s explosive report by the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) similarly raised concern at the erosion of English standards, which is being facilitated by bogus bridging courses run for profit by universities:

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…

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’…

For example, the University of Sydney offers ‘preparatory programs’ that allow international students to circumvent the usual admissions criteria. These programs are run by Taylor College, which is a 50-50 joint venture between the university and the for-profit education provider Study Group. The standard program costs $34,300 plus fees for a 40-week course. The University of Sydney has a university-wide minimum score of 6.5 on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test for direct admission…

However, students can gain admittance through a Taylor College preparatory program with a much lower minimum IELTS score of 5.0 (“modest user” with “partial command of the language”). Taylor College advertises that “95% of USFP [University of Sydney Foundation Program] students received offers to the University of Sydney”, which suggests that nearly all students who request an offer, receive one…

The ANU offers a similar alternative pathway for international students that allows them to gain admission with a IELTS score of just 4.0 (“not able to use complex language”) on individual bands…

Other elite Australian universities offer similar programs…

What a wonderful double-dipping scam the universities have developed.

They charge NESB international students tens-of-thousands of dollars for dubious ‘preparatory programs’ that circumvent IELTS requirements and guarantees backdoor entry to full-fee university courses.

Then once these NESB students are admitted, universities place them in group assessments with domestic English-speaking students whom effectively act as unpaid tutors, carry the load, and ensure they pass.

We know this scam is hugely unfair to domestic students, whose quality of education is being trashed. But neither is it fair to international students whom are paying a small fortune for questionable qualifications that leaves them badly unprepared for the future.

Leith van Onselen


  1. I think there are more dips than double. Because the preparation courses are not enough to make up for poor English, more units are required during the actual degree, in English, cv writing, networking and real world lear’n. Of course these units are not taught by the academics. Instead they are usually taught by staff in the Office of the Deputy VC Education. Income usually follows student load, so the DVCE gets all the income from the students.

    There, I found another dip. Meanwhile students get a degree e.g. in IT with less actual IT content.

  2. An obvious solution is to bring back individual assessment criteria. Use group projects only if the individual contribution can be self-contained and assessed on their own merit.

    If NESB students are admitted after language skills assessment overseen by the university, yet are clearly unable to cope, they should be refunded in full. They are victims of this neoliberal disgrace as much as anyone.

  3. Another anecdote. My daughter doing group assignment at uni with international students (Deakin Uni
    ) One international student gets caught with plagiarism AND admits to it. The whole group is marked down and has to undergo plagiarism training. The episode is on her student record!

    • Can confirm a more familiar practice. Family member who was forced into editing and adding appropriate content to contributions to group assignments from international students (Chinese from China), on several occasions, to enable suitable grades. A reminder though that a proportion of the populations, and hence, some international students from some nations (India and Nepal) speak English as their first language at home, others attend schools that teach in English and many are multilingual (at least two, sometimes four).

      • (Edit- this is in response to Mark) Isn’t that something the student unions should be on top of? I mean if a student is being unfairly treated by an assignment don’t they have recourse and legal resources in the union? or at least I though they did when I was there (2013), maybe its changed since.

    • Strange EconomicsMEMBER

      So Group Assignments turn local students into unpaid tutors.
      Plagiarism is banned, but copying from the English speakers is required.
      Meanwhile the Universities collect 30K per overseas student to get a guaranteed pass and work visa then permanent residency after – –
      Local students should be paid 10K a year to participate as tutors in group assignments.

  4. The students who can’t speak English obviously won’t act on this, so it’s up to uni students to act on it. If everyone refuses to carry them, the uni can’t fail everyone. I really won’t be having anything to do with them, even if I stand alone on this. At least if I’m grouped with a pack of dumb Australians I will be able to speak the language the course is in and get them to comprehend the issues. How do I play translator when I don’t even speak Mandarin? The Ombudsman should be doing something about these idiots. If they’re being duped, then just go back to China and study or defer and stay here gaining English experience before returning to your studies. It’s the fact that every student is just sitting there whining about it instead of acting on it that this stupid scenario still exists.

    • Yep smacks of too much PC, too much diversity, too much vibrancy, too much profiteering from housing, too much whining from vibrant students cos looking gift horse in the mouth – they get to buy house in Oz, too much idiocy & stupidity from uni students who have been indoctrinated to such a degree they put the education, employment & housing needs of vibranta before their own and have no idea…blinded by the light:(((((