Universities’ chief lobbyist defends international student scam

The CEO of the International Education Association of Australia, Phil Honeywood, ran a infomercial yesterday on the purported enormous benefits accruing to Australia from our universities’ enormous dependence on international students:

Last week, in Nine Entertainment newspapers, ­respected political editor Chris Uhlmann decided to weigh into the media tsunami that had been building up about overseas students in our universities.

In attempting to find a new angle to this story, Uhlmann referred to the “mess” that vice-chancellors had made “as they built gilded palaces on rivers of gold flowing from full-fee paying foreign students”…

The pedagogical framework that our academics have put in place encourages critical thinking, creative learning and team-based project work. Given that many students from Asian countries have been educated in systems reliant on rote learning, our universities are often opening their eyes and minds to what is possible…

What is therefore missing from Uhlmann’s analysis is the incredible soft power benefit that our nation has accrued by teaching students from around the world…

Of course, like all countries, Australia must address the potential for macro political issues to affect the integrity and autonomy of our education institutions.

But it is another thing entirely to conflate these concerns with the assumption that there is a lack of due diligence on course entry standards…

In writing this dross, Phil Honeywood failed to address any of the key concerns surrounding Australia’s world-beating concentration of international students, which dwarfs any other developed nation:

In particular, where is Honeywood’s acknowledgement that Australia’s universities have badly degraded English-language and teaching standards to maximise the volume of full-fee paying international students washed through Australia’s universities?

As we know, the top three sources of international students are all non-English speaking background (NESB) nations, and their numbers have skyrocketed over recent years:

This explosion in enrolments has been achieved by cratering entry standards, as explained last month by the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS):

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’…

Warwick Lough – a former Monash College English language teacher and a former examiner for the IELTS English language test – noted similar concerns over the weekend:

[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”…

“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.”

To add insult to injury, universities have restructured their entire assessment criteria toward group assignments in order to pair NESB international students with locals. This effectively forces local students to act as unpaid tutors, carrying the load in assignments, and ensuring international students pass their courses.

This scam was highlighted by the explosive testimony of journalist and mature age Masters student, Meshel Laurie:

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…

The workload is overwhelming enough without having to piggyback someone else through it too… The university assessment process is heavily weighted towards group activities…

Subsequent Letters to the Editor elaborated on the group assignment farce:

As a mature-age student, I also returned to study and found the “group assessment” diabolical… One student, apart from barely turning up to group meetings and expecting us to explain and do everything for her, plagiarised my work. (It was for a group presentation). When I confronted her about this, she said it was normal to copy in China…

At the end of the semester, I asked our tutor if he was going to pass her as she contributed barely anything. He said as she was a foreign, full-fee paying student, he was obligated to pass her….

Russell McGilton, Coburg North…

During her degree, my daughter often found herself in the situation where the only hope she had of passing group assignments was by doing most of the work herself. In a group of five or six, there would usually be three or four Chinese with unacceptably poor English comprehension. They barely understood what they were being asked to do, much less have the capacity to help formulate responses. How shockingly unfair was that on my daughter and other locals who were dumped with this responsibility? How dare our universities dole out degrees to students who only pass because other students have effectively hauled them through by doing the work for them?…

Kay Buckeridge, Mosman, NSW

Of course, industry lobbyists like Phil Honeywood would never acknowledge these serious shortcomings because it would compel universities to raise standards, thereby resulting in fewer international student enrolments and placing their entire business models at risk.

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  1. Phil Honeywood…ex-Kennett government privatiser of state tertiary assets and seller of state schools – that we now don’t have enough of. This massive weasel has made a career out of selling Australian education standards down the river. He’s one of the many who began the neoliberal mates game that brought us to the present tipping point. I cannot understand how the media allows such a buffoon to escape the consequences of his 30 year trail of destruction in education. Here is a person responsible for the mess we are in who’s be allowed to re-invent himself as an education specialist.

      • I think someone’s KPIs aren’t being meeeeettt… to wit, at most he’d get 23-25 ‘likes’ presumably from office staff… but there are so many of his ‘tweets’ which probably are ‘liked’ by him, his secretary and his pet rock… the office staff don’t even bother. Come ‘annual performance review’ time, they’ll be sorry for not liking his tweets!

    • Clive
      April 23, 2019 at 3:24 am
      Phil Honeywood:

      Industrial Relations Officer with Shell and president of the Malvern branch of the Young Liberals in 1986 smack bang in Peter Costello’s seat of Higgins and also a member of the Liberal Party’s Youth Affairs Policy Committee. He was finance director of the Young Liberal Movement in 1987 and his career took off in the Kennett years as Minister for Tertiary Education, Training and Multicultural Affairs; amusing, as these are primarily Commonwealth responsibilities and burdens that the Victorian government wanted to pass on to the Commonwealth ASAP in order to save money. Hence he was the Minister for educational fire sales.

      Overall, Phil Honeywood is an absolutely classic neoliberal. His Kennett government credentials are based upon shutting down schools, sacking teachers and divesting the state of tertiary educational facilities. He found himself in a portfolio that rode the Hawke-Keating “reforms” that saw many Victorian educational institutions rolled into the university system where they could be linked to the Commonwealth budget – ready or not and eventual full fee paying industries ripe for deregulation. This was the era that was both the beginning of the end for TAFE but also the start of the time where universities were forced to become vocational and inherit Victorian educational organisations that were poorly suited to a university status. On Lucky Phil’s watch institutes of technology were rebadged as universities and we began the downhill slide in university standards as they were forced to home back-crackers, dodgy business schools and assorted spoon-benders.

      Lucky Phil was hot for the “user pays” principle and the creation of new markets in education. My guess is that he can hardly conceive why anyone is bothered by the present bounty of loot and buzzing demand. The view from the Malvern Young Libs back in the 1980s was to put the boot into any long haired university leftover from an era where knowledge was not a commodity. Fortunately, Keating was as neoliberal as he was in this respect and no fan of academia unless it turned a profit. The ALPs “Dawkins Revolution” introduced corporate managerialism into tertiary institutions and was run by a person (Dawkins) who to this very day thinks that they did not go far enough.

      One cannot be surprised at Mr Honeywood (B.A.) for being aghast at criticism. For you cannot teach an old neoliberal dog new tricks, you can only put them down and out of everyone’s misery.

      Unfortunately, the ALP have not faced up to the problem they caused in the late 80s and show no sign of leading a reform of the left as Bernie Saunders is attempting to do. Bill Shorten is neoliberal-lite


      • Thanks – although I think ‘Ino’ summed him up better and with far fewer words!

        One does have to wonder why a bloke of such neoliberal form is given a free kick by the media? What we see now with the sell out of the Australian tertiary sector for $ is the wet dream of Phil Honeytodger.

        • Had to share that one as I remember you posting it earlier in the year. The verbal shredding of Innes Bollox also went to the poolroom: https://www.macrobusiness.com.au/2019/03/migration-council-chair-again-fights-wage-theft-laws/

          I’ve always found it quite telling to see what people have studied and what really drives them. The nation has been run by ex-investment bankers, lawyers, and professional public servants (i.e. those who couldn’t make it in the real word).

          • Yep, it has been a gradual colonisation of our institutions ever since the ALP began to play the same game. Now there is no ideological difference in important areas. The scum have risen to the top and having done so will give themselves a pay increase.

    • ErmingtonPlumbingMEMBER

      “I cannot understand how the media allows such a buffoon to escape the consequences of his 30 year trail of destruction in education.”

      Did you read the other Macrobusiness story on Costello Clive?,

      “The decision of the Nine Entertainment board to host political fundraisers at the company’s Channel Nine studios in Sydney this week has brought into sharp relief the question of whether the company has enough credibility to claim it is “independent, always”.

      For starters, having a partisan figure such as Peter Costello as chairman raises immediate questions about independence. This is even before considering the optics of helping the federal Liberal Party raise $700,000 at the $10,000-a-head fundraiser on Monday night”

      “How on earth can a media company possibly expect to be treated as impartial when it is chaired by a warrior like Costello, who remains active in Liberal politics — posing for pictures with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg last year and receiving support to continue what is now arguably an excessive 10-year run on the Future Fund board (with the last five years as chair). Indeed, such is the tightness of the relationship, Frydenberg and Scott Morrison gave Costello another five-year term as Future Fund chair”


      And yet according to many in our our Media, Universities, with their Safe spaces and Leso’s, have all been taken over by the GLIBQs, CCP, Greens and lefty Labor apparatchiks!

      Who’s telling the truth?
      What IS the truth?

      • Ermington Plumbing – my take is that there is a great deal of cultural similarity between the ALP and LNP machine. They both see-saw between hyperbole and hypocrisy. Yet Costello as chair is the brazen brown icing on the media poo cake. Here is a H.R. Nicholls Society stalwart, mentor to the Golden Toaster herself (Kelly O’Dwyer) and Monash University mate of The Kroger who married into the Peacock henhouse where Ann Peacock used to be the Channel 9 weather girl.

        Tight? Chummy? Well, that’s Melbourne.

        Keating, who began the neoliberal catastrophe, got one thing right despite his feather duster preening that always goes with it; Nine has the ethics of an ally cat. Nine can never pretend not to be a contaminating pox for anything it touches. Because put a pile of crap next to a good meal and the flies will do the rest. Maggots eat dead flesh and journalism died at The Age a decade ago at least. Titanium fly wire could not hold back the Nine corporate blowflies.

        RIP The Age and SMH and all the Fairfax cut and paste newspapers in the land. Draw a shroud over them. One of my great pleasures for 2 decades used to be reading The Age in the morning. Now it makes me physically ill to look at what has become an advertising rag that makes any ‘tit’n bums’ tabloid look like it has integrity.

        One by one Melbourne’s institutions has been raped by evil men who’s wants are base, demeaning and ultimately self-destructive.

  2. “soft power” has he not been paying attention??? the country has two million fifth columnists in it at anyone time.

  3. If university administrators didn’t squander so much in BS positions and projects, or be inclined to empire building there wouldn’t be the need for the bulk of foreign students. There would be foreign students, but we could be selective and they would be value-adding to the university experience for locals.

    Do we need to see ‘efficiency dividends’ for University government funding now?