International student cheating runs rampant at universities

There has been a long and sordid history of international students cheating at Australia’s universities, often to get around having insufficient English-language proficiency to complete their studies.

For example, “functionally illiterate” Chinese international students were embroiled in a widespread contract cheating racket in 2014, which was documented in detail here and here.

The next year, ABC’s Four Corners aired an alarming report, entitled “Degrees of Deception”, which also documented the rise of contract cheating among international students at Australian universities.

Several Sydney Universities were also caught up in ‘ghost writing’ scandal in 2015, resulting in New South Wales’ Independent Commission Against Corruption issuing a strong censure.

At the beginning of last year, international student associations demanded greater oversight of overseas agents amid growing concerns of widespread cheating on English-language tests.

A few months later, ABC Four Corners’ “Cash cows” report featured academics concerned about the growing incidence of cheating by international students at Australian universities.

Later in 2019, the ABC reported a “proliferation of ghostwriting” services targeted at international students, whereas The AFR reported that “cheating has spread like wildfire” across Australia’s universities, driven by international students.

It appears Australia’s university watchdog has finally had enough, with the chief executive of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TESQA), Anthony McClaran, vowing to tackle industrial-scale contract cheating, which is most prevalent among international students:

[Anthony McClaran] said the providers of paid cheating services were becoming more sophisticated and cracking down was a priority for the regulator…

While the services are available to domestic and international students, many of the providers have targeted foreign students who may struggle with English language standards.

Amid ongoing scrutiny of Australia’s booming international education sector, Mr McClaran recognised there were concerns about English language standards…

While the services are available to domestic and international students, many of the providers have targeted foreign students who may struggle with English language standards.

Amid ongoing scrutiny of Australia’s booming international education sector, Mr McClaran recognised there were concerns about English language standards…

Mr McClaran said the success of international education in Australia had introduced varied risk across the system, with “problematic” over-reliance at some providers.

The fundamental problem is that Australia’s higher education system has turned into a commodity ‘volume-based’ business, with universities dumbing down standards to sell as many places as possible to international students in order to maximise profits.

The gutted entry standards has meant that almost any international student now qualifies to study so long as they can pay the fees. Hence the absurd rise in students from non-English speaking backgrounds, particularly China, India and Nepal:

Because these international students have paid so much money upfront, and lack the necessary English language skills to complete their studies, they inevitably turn to ‘ghost writing’ and contract cheating services to pass.

The real victims in this sham are local students whose education quality is being eroded as Australia’s universities dumb down courses to cater for international students with poor English skills, while also having to carry them via group assignments.


  1. Migration agents are also in on the racket providing students with completed assignments for their courses. And I suspect there are also links between migration agents and course providers with kickbacks involved. Not at university level, as far as I know, but at cert/diploma level for business courses.

    • John Howards Bowling Coach

      Yes at university level they also pay commission to agents bringing them students as far as my informant in that industry tells me. It is a completely compromised sector. To think of all the work I put in to graduate top of the class and now I have qualifications that have been watered down like a jug of cottee’s cordial.

  2. The epidemic of cheating and ghost writing has been recognised for some 10 years in the United Kingdom:

    It has probably been going on for much longer. According to one study this has blossomed into cheating industry and surprisingly, many of the providers in the UK seem to come from East Africa:

    Countries such as Iran are also implicated:

    “Contract cheating” is an industry that aims to personalise essays and get around ethical and administrative barriers that primarily depend upon honesty and integrity. It has been enabled by social media:

    True, the victims are, in part, domestic students for the reasons outlined in the article above, but it goes much much further than this. Imagine if the RBA didn’t give a stuff about counterfeit $100 notes in circulation and just asked people to pass them off as currency. That would debase the currency and encourage all manner of players to pump out fake $100 notes. This is essentially what has happened with Australian degrees. The same people who tell us what a great quality education they provide are also party to the fabrication of degrees that are essentially worthless, but passed off as having the same value as ones earned. They have done nothing to stop it. While some of the lunatic Left has suggested that to do so would be racist and/or discriminatory, we all know that the reality is that the fundamental business model can’t fail too many people who pay full fees – as no one would come. So, the greater corruption is to water down standards to promote bums on seats and to pass people who should fail. That’s built in.

    Australian universities have been corrupted by corporate greed and an elite class of ‘managers’ seeking to produce an education industry business model which is incompatible with academic values. A blind eye has been turned to the epidemic of cheating and criminality in the name of profit for well over a decade. Just as poorly regulated mass tourism eventually destroys what people come to see, Australia’s degree mills have promoted corrupt behaviour that are destroying our tertiary education system for short term gain. It’s a system overseen by VCs that are paid obscene salary packages to run down academic standards and promote bad behaviour.

    One can only imagine that the message this is sending our young people is that every principle is bankable.

    Can anyone tell me if there has ever been a case of a commodity that does not become less valuable in excess? If Australian degrees are a commodity (as our government seems to think they are) why don’t they become less valuable as more and more people obtain them for less effort?

    For while the victims are current domestic students, the real victims are those who 10 years ago busted a gut to obtain qualifications that can now be purchased in an open market of cheating, spawned by the very policy that sought to globalise our tertiary institutions.

    • Well said Clive. As employers realise that graduates from certain degrees have no idea what they are doing, then they will no longer choose to employ graduates from particular courses. It’s remarkable that universities think there are no downstream consequences from their behaviour. Ultimately, degrees end up being worthless except as a means to gain residency.

      • Arthur Schopenhauer

        Eloquently put Clive.

        Elastic, I know of one company (in a technical field) that avoids employing Graduates from Australian Unis unless they have proven their worth at other companies first. They try and employ Northern & Central European grads, where technical education standards are still high.

        • rob barrattMEMBER

          I remember being part of a telephone interview with an IT “graduate” from an Ausi university. We were all rolling our eyes after 5 minutes. He had no idea. As far as something like programming goes, you do what we did in the previous century – give then a test you create yourself.
          An Ausi degree has become the equivalent of a Confederate dollar.

    • Imagine if the RBA didn’t give a stuff about counterfeit $100 notes in circulation and just asked people to pass them off as currency. That would debase the currency and encourage all manner of players to pump out fake $100 notes. This is essentially what has happened with Australian degrees.

      Very good point.

      Thanks Gillard!

      extra $174 million to help ensure more Australians get the chance to study at uni.

      The Deputy Labor Leader, Tanya Plibersek, announced today

      Thanks Tanya!

      FFS. Uni should be hard to get into.

    • while most of this is true, it must be said that this is not our invention but more of a global trend.
      The only places still resisting are few high end universities that due to large popularity don’t need to accept anyone with poor qualifications and some of European fee-free universities where professors are still able to fail half a class because students who don’t pay are not seen as customers who have right to get degree.

      Also inflation of uni degrees is just natural progress of inflation seen in the past. Following WWII, high school degree inflation made those worthless pieces of paper, and than starting few decades ago same happened to vocational certificates

      • The latest dataset from the Department of Education and Training indicates that some 21% of on-campus students in the university sector are international students. Between universities this varies between 2% and 45%. Very roughly Australia has about one third of the international students compared to the USA, but a population some 13 x smaller. We have as many international students as Germany, but don’t train anywhere near the same number of graduates in high tech. Using many different comparisons Australia has gone crazier than most nations over the rivers of fools gold. It has done so by dropping standards and passing students in a ticket clipping process and inventing courses with little practical merit. We have only been able to achieve this with the lure of possible residency and citizenship. It is shameful exploitation and has undermined the value of an Australian degree and opened the door on many other forms of corruption. This is the tip of the iceberg. Most amazing is that no one but MB is sounding the alarm and the various political parties are MIA. That’s because both the ALP and LNP are lock step and The Greens smell the air and detect the odour of racism with every migration issue. Anthony (Tiny Balls) Albanese will not rock the boat. Our politics represents only financial interests.

        • John Howards Bowling Coach

          Clive, it is much worse than just the downgrading of the value of an Australian degree, it has downgraded the value of Australian Citizenship.

          • Very true. It is the ultimate triumph of neoliberalism; to turn national identity into a marketplace and the nation state into a corporation that provides this ‘service’ for a fee. It makes the pathetic whimpering and weasel words from our politicians very hard to listen to as none of them will address what the undermining of our cultural values foretells. What happens when our children no longer feel part of a nation bound by common values and only members of a marketplace? Then, I fear, we become ever more like the United States.

      • It has nothing to do with ‘markets’, you dingbat.

        What would a ‘free market’ Aussie education be worth without a shot at PR stapled to it?

        You really are a prize dunce (apologies to the hordes that had ascertained that prior to 2015).

  3. Fishing72MEMBER

    Going for my motorbike license and there is now an unmistakable onus on the penalties for cheating and bribery when taking the test.

    Wonder why the roads department found that bribery and cheating is now so rife in the 30 years since I got my driver’s license ? What has changed in Australian society do you think ?

    • Well in your particular case you are in the highest risk demographic for riders (middle-aged – I’m going to take a punt on men – getting onto a bike for the first time (or after decades of not riding)).

      You should ask your parents (or grandparents if they’re still alive) what getting a license was like in their day, especially if they weren’t from a capital city. Of my four grandparents, only one ever took a driving test. Two of them didn’t even bother getting licenses until they were in their late 30s (and not because they weren’t driving around).

      Then read about what it’s like to get a license in somewhere like Germany.

      EDIT: Ask ’em what drinking and driving was like back in the day as well.

      • boomengineeringMEMBER

        I’m in my 70’s and remember that if you had a bad accident or killed someone you could get off without a penalty if you said you were drunk because if you were drunk you couldn’t help it.

      • *or Finland

        The training for B class licence requires 18 hours of instructed driving, including a spell on a slippery driving course, and 19 theory lessons. After this, the person must pass a computerised theory test and a driving test in city traffic with a minimum length of 30 minutes.

    • New Jimmy’s to the ACT with an existing drivers licence simply hand over their international or country of origin licence for an ACT licence, no competency test required. Explains why there’s a broader diversity of sh1t driving in the ACT.

      • John Howards Bowling Coach

        Up until recently that was also the case in Victoria. I know many Chinese currently sh&ting themselves that they will soon have to pass a test in order to keep driving their Porsche, and no this is not an exaggeration.

  4. Arthur Schopenhauer

    For some context, 30+ years ago I started first year with 120 other students. 21 students graduated. Lost 60 students in the first year. It was brutal.
    If you were caught cheating, you were excluded from all study at the University, forever.
    And, there was no internet! Mary, mother of God!
    (And we all lived in cardboard boxes under the Library stairs… 😀)

    • yep, uni of newcastle, b comp sci, there was a first year course – electronic logic or something it was basically nand gates and stuff like that. Lecturer said 50% won’t be here by the 1/2 year, and another 1/2 by year end.

      he was right.

      By the end of 3rd year, there were few survivors and we were all doing 60 hrs a week.

  5. kiwikarynMEMBER

    Meanwhile, Universities are creating degrees in subjects for which there is zero paid employment at the end of it. Check this one out – being Greta Thunberg is now a degree!
    I feel sorry for students who end up with whopping student loans they have to pay back, no hope of paid employment, and a degree that doesnt qualify them for anything else (except maybe becoming a professional politician, for which no qualifications are necessary, just “wokeness”)

    • Courses like these should be limited to being delivered via vocational education. I couldn’t imagine saddling myself with a HECS debt for such a BS degree.

    • You ‘feel sorry’?

      Fvckem. Have you heard of Charles Darwin?

      Let nature take its course. If you don’t the human race is doomed.

  6. Arthur Schopenhauer

    There are top engineering grads stacking shelves in Woolies. Really bright kids.
    In Oz, there are very standard first world professional “degrees in subjects for which there is zero paid employment at the end of it“.

    • John Howards Bowling Coach

      One of the biggest issues holding back Oz is that we don’t have much of a culture for start ups, especially in graduates. I have a friend who grew up next door, started his business straight out of uni in the last recession and built it into the leading design agency in Australia. Some family support from his then girlfriend helped, and this is often the case with Asian families. It’s a cultural issue holding up back that some really talented young people in Australia aren’t guided and mentored into their own start up rather they are headed for a consultancy if they are lucky. We need more burning ambition.

  7. But of course, they’ll become perfectly respectable permanent residents or citizens, after being dodgy students.

  8. John Howards Bowling Coach

    26 years ago I recall several of the admittedly very few International Student in my undergrad course were deported for failing to achieve an ongoing pass level. I always felt most tended to give that course a wide berth because although it was not that hard, it required a lot of communication and ability to present. In group assignments I was brutal, I told them they could be in the group, BUT they would have to do the whole presentation for the group, never once had anyone take up that offer.