Chinese international students engulfed in cheating scandal


Over the past decade, Australia has experienced an unprecedented boom in Chinese international students, whose enrolment numbers hit a record high 261,000 in December 2019:

According to Associate Professor Salvatore Babones, Australia also has by far the highest concentration of Chinese students in the developed world, comprising 11% of all our university students:


One of the unfortunate side effects of this boom is that cheating among Chinese students has run rampant, which has been exposed in various reports over many years.

For example, “functionally illiterate“ Chinese students were embroiled in a sophisticated ghost-writing scandal in 2014.

And last year, multiple reports emerged of Chinese students cheating via ghost writing services (for example, see here and here).


Australia is by no means alone, however, with similar scandals exposed in New Zealand (e.g. here, here and here) as well as the United States (here).

Like Groundhog Day, another group of Chinese students have been embroiled in a cheating scandal, this time at the University of New South Wales:

Rates of cheating have snowballed at the University of NSW, a leaked report reveals, including 139 science students who hired ghost writers from Chinese messaging site WeChat to complete their work.

The 2019 Students Conduct and Complaints report, marked confidential but obtained by The Sydney Morning Herald, noted a ‘consistent and continuing upward trend’ in student misconduct allegations since 2014…

The most alarming figure was a 400 per cent surge in substantiated cases of contract cheating, also known as ghost writing and explained as a “form of collusion that involves a student engaging another person to complete work for them”…

“Most of the students reported that they had been directly targeted by contract cheating services via Chinese social media platform WeChat, online searches for study assistance or referral by other students,” the report noted.


Sadly, cheating seems to be a cultural phenomenon among Chinese, according to the New York Times:

In China, academic journals are riddled with plagiarism. A professor in China tells National Public Radio that about 30 percent of submissions to the Journal of Zhejiang University-Science was drawn from heavily plagiarized research.

In China, rip-offs of all sorts are common… Yet copying, whether a painting or a literary work, has a long tradition in China. It was a way of learning, of showing admiration and respect…

This surge in cheating is also a natural and predictable consequence of getting large numbers of international students who cannot write fluent English into university courses.


The only way these students can pass written assignments is to get someone else to do them. Accordingly, academic standards have plummeted and the integrity of Australia’s higher education system has been severely compromised.

Meanwhile, university administrators turn a blind eye to protect their sacred ‘cash cow’.

Enough’s enough. Universities must dramatically lift English-language entry requirements as well as severely punish perpetrators. It’s the only way to stop the rot and safeguard standards.

About the author
Leith van Onselen is Chief Economist at the MB Fund and MB Super. He is also a co-founder of MacroBusiness. Leith has previously worked at the Australian Treasury, Victorian Treasury and Goldman Sachs.