It’s time governments “came clean” on international student scam

The Australian’s Judith Sloan notes today that the higher education sector has expressed much angst about the fall in overseas student numbers as a result of border restrictions caused by COVID-19 and the impact this is having on higher education and the economy in general.

However, while there may be positives associated with international students, there are also negatives, including the lack of language proficiency on the part of many overseas students. There is also a perception that many of the students who come to Australia are more interested in achieving permanent residency than getting an education, and Sloan believes it’s time the federal and state governments “came clean” on the role that international students should play in Australia’s education system:

International student numbers had been growing at an extraordinary pace prior to the onset of COVID-19…

That there have been negatives as well as positives associated with this rapid growth is a point too rarely conceded by senior managers in the education sector. In particular, the lack of language proficiency on the part of too many overseas students needs to recognised. The potential for domestic students to lose out due to large numbers of international students — contrived group assignments and lower standards being two examples — should also be acknowledged.

There is also the dubious figure of about $40bn of “exports” associated with international students, a figure often quoted by education lobbyists…

The reality is quite different. About $17bn of the total figure are tuition fees, with the remaining being international students’ living expenses while living in Australia. But, given that many international students work while in Australia, particularly to cover living expenses, and are paid in Australian dollars, it is a conceptual mistake to equate the $40bn as being export income.

We know the majority of students from India and Nepal — there has been strong growth in their numbers in recent years — work while in Australia. We also know international student workers are more likely to be exploited than young Australian citizens, in part because of their strong need to work as well as the restrictions on their work patterns arising from visa conditions.

The lobbyists continue to press the case for establishing facilitated paths of entry for international students in early 2021. This push has seemingly been met with some sympathy by state governments… This latter point is unlikely to generate much sympathy here if international students are seen to be more interested in securing permanent residence than being educated.

It’s time federal and state governments came clean about the role international students should play in our education systems. Most people accept there are benefits of having a small proportion of language-proficient students from a range of countries at our schools, colleges and universities. But the open slather of the years prior to COVID-19 should not be repeated.

Too right.

The whole education industry has been corrupted and centred on maximising revenue and fattening administrator pay packets over teaching quality. It has shifted from higher learning to higher earning.

Wage theft is endemic across universities. Front-line university staff have been gutted and entry and teaching standards trashed, with the ratio of students to academic staff ballooning:

While senior administrators earn fat paychecks, entry and teaching standards have been gutted to accommodate international students, cheating by these students is rife, Chinese influence runs rampant, free speech has been gutted, and universities’ casualised workforce are underpaid and bullied into passing low performing foreign students.

Meanwhile, domestic students have also been forced to carry Non-English Speaking Backgrounds (NESB) students through their courses via group assignments. These group assignments pair local students with international students, often resulting in domestic students doing most of the work, effectively becoming unpaid tutors, and cross-subsidising the marks of international students.

The whole education industry has morphed into an immigration scam, with universities acting more like migration agents than educators.

The education industry’s behaviour during the COVID-19 pandemic has also been deplorable, displaying classic moral hazard behaviour throughout.

In February, the industry lobbied the federal government to lift its travel ban on China. Then it paid for Chinese students to circumvent travel bans by travelling into Australia via third countries like Thailand and Dubai, in turn helping to spread the virus. They lobbied hard for students to jump the arrival queue via oxymoronic ‘safe corridors’ hotel quarantine. Now they are lobbying for Australia to stress its hotel quarantine system to allow students to return before actual Australians.

Running low-quality degree factories was never in the national interest. The federal government should order a royal commission into the whole stinking university edifice.

Unconventional Economist
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    • Agree, it will just be Hayne 2.0.

      That being said, I think it should still go ahead to at least get it further in the public conscience. Average punter is becoming aware that it’s a rort but probably doesn’t know the finer details.

      I’d personally let half the unis go under. Australia could easily get by with about 15 unis and fully funded TAFE. But that would require actual courage through a push towards being productive and telling the real estate industry to GGF.

    • Hernando da Silva

      There’s too much money to be made, it’s never gonna stop.

      Look at this enterprising fellow, Bobby Singh, who made tens of millions by founding his own university, bringing in poor “students” from India and then making ’em work as delivery drivers.

      The AFP alleges St Stephen Institute of Technology, owned by Singh and Kumar, and Symbiosis Institute of Technical Education, owned by Sharma, are not providing education, but are in fact being used to source student visas for Indian students who then go to work as posties and parcel deliverers for Australia Post through Singh’s labour hire companies.

      The colleges charge international students fees of up to $10,000 despite allegedly not providing any training.

      The AFP said on Wednesday the colleges had charged over $9 million in fees to international students as well as claiming approximately $2 million in government funding because of their Registered Training Organisation status

      • The most remarkable aspect being how the MSM and public in general took this all in its stride. A scam of this proportion is only possible given the collision of almost zero monitoring by regulations (self-regulation”) with policies that seek to import opportunistic criminality. Today we are not even allowed to explore this even for its comedic possibilities – which are obvious. Indian con-artists with empty tertiary education institutions as a front for labour hire. This is Yes Minister + Fawlty Towers. It is part of a giant national scam where we are expected to collectively turn a blind eye to a decline in standards that has followed the rivers of gold that followed junking normal standards of behaviour and incentivising bad behaviour.

        The scumbags that have gutted tertiary education have been provided with a magic foil that fends of criticism of their opportunism as ‘racist’.

        Singh, Kumar and Sharma demonstrated the high pong of the tertiary education miasma. Given “de-regulation” and open slather it is literally possible to import half an Indian village and get them going on low paid jobs in Australia whilst the Mr Bigs are incentivised by a government policy that has made this possible. Singh, Kumar and Sharma saw the opportunities just as the CCP saw their own.

        Both our major parties are up to their necks in the policies that made this happen. Singh, Kumar and Sharma are symptoms of a national and cultural crisis, not the cause.

        • I'll have anotherMEMBER

          Good comment. The failure is a lack of media interest in corruption and therefore public interest.

          The second failure is the lack of anti corruption watchdogs with sufficient resources and backing to do the job of digging up this kind of thing and prosecuting it. The example, as you stated, shows the complete breakdown of any competence in govenrment oversight.

      • Correct, Yet MB continues to bash on about Universities. It is all the bodgy colleges out there that are providing dubious vocational training, forged work experience claims and general fraud facilitated by bent Migration Agents constituting the greater part of the problem.

    • Universities that were previously colleges of advanced education or institutes of technology could revert and teach trades and other non-degree skills to people who already live here. I think there’s a plan for at least doing the teaching somewhere. We’ll have to wait and see what develops. Universities won’t like to be demoted. There will be conflict.

      • Why? CAE’s and Institutes of Technology didn’t teach trades, this was handled at TAFE. I’ve flicked through the old QIT and BCAE handbooks from the 70’s and 80’s and they taught diploma, bachelor and masters courses. The main difference is that the CAEs didn’t engage in research and graduate higher degree research students.

        And how does turning back the higher education clock to 1987 relate to the international student rort? In some parallel universe where CAEs still existed they would have been opened up to international students as well and we would have seen the same degradation of teaching standards to accommodate the demand side of this “market”.

        • Some did some didn’t. RMIT taught trades as well as degree level prior to becoming a uni. I think the point is that they were institutions with a clearer purpose and served society better when they focused on education.

          Making everyone a uni was a brain dead ideological move that didn’t help Australia in the end.

          • OK that makes sense. I agree that the Dawkins Reforms made too many CAE’s into universities, but even so I think the clear purpose that the CAE’s had would have been lost in the current market driven education environment anyway. They still would have suffered government funding cuts, turned to the international and demand driven domestic markets and diluted their standards in the process.

          • RMIT still does. Also, in re comment about societal purpose, RMIT also have a food tech campus as an integrated part of the northern Melb food hub.

        • No need to be torchy. My suggestion was to re-purpose institutions that seem likely to be redundant given the number of fee-paying students is very likely to reduce and more people already living in Australia will be looking for work. I’m happy to leave details of what is taught to others, so long as it’s relevant to the needs of potential employers.

      • They’d just fill the trades courses with Nepalese. It’d actually deepen the potential pool of applicants . Just what we need – Nepalese electricians and chippies usurping our construction industry.

    • Yes, removing work rights for international students is the obvious thing to do, it is a requirement that international students have proven funds to cover their living expenses and course fees before a student visa is granted.
      Remove work rights now.
      Secondly, international students should not be allowed immediate access to residency pathway because they did a course here.
      International students must return to their country of origin at completion of their course, after returning home for 2 years they can apply for immigration to Australia.
      If they use the qualification they received while studying in Australia previously or any other qualification, to gain immigration points, they will need to show they worked in that field in their home country for the 2 years prior to their application.


    “I’m disappointed at the extent of online learning,” Ms Ellery said.

    “There’s a whole thing that goes with the university culture and that is about the exchange and sitting around in the coffee shops and the libraries so it is a little bit disappointing to me that there’s a greater focus online.

    “The reason given has been COVID but actually you can deliver large-scale lectures safely and … universities haven’t done that.”

    She said she had expressed her disappointment to the universities, with Edith Cowan University being the only state public institute to have face-to-face learning as per usual.

    “We need to call it for what it is, if it is about saving dollars let’s describe it as that, let’s not call it a COVID measure when it’s not,” Ms Ellery said.

    • Jumping jack flash


      International students serve 2 purposes. The first and most important is the wage theft to keep some pulse in the dying debt economy. The second is to make up for university funding cuts in the name of Thatcherism.

  2. It’s no ‘perception’ that most Indian and almost all Nepalese students are here for PR. It’s simply true!

    Don’t blame the poor sods for trying, in their position I might do the same. But makes no sense for us as a country…

    • The90kwbeastMEMBER

      Absolutely. If you were from Nepal, India or wherever and you saw Australia basically opening the door for you, of course you’d do whatever it took to come here and improve your life.

      Blame should always be placed on the negligent rulemakers (politicians) that thought it would be great to let the unis do whatever they wanted and cut their funding over 2-3 decades, and not the players (students).

      • Totes BeWokeMEMBER

        Exactly. Blame the people who should be blamed. The one’s being paid and not doing their job, the function they were entrusted to fulfil.


    • darklydrawlMEMBER

      I agree with this sentiment. I don’t blame any of the migrants – after all, I would do exactly the same if I was in their shoes. However I do take issue with the Government and Uni’s who openly exploit this situation to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else.

  3. I just moved out of a sharehouse (Melbourne) with an abusive housemate.

    He was an international student from Chile. Out here for 5 years, and all he has to his name is an advanced business diploma from some unknown college. I’m not even sure if he finished it.

    I got a fairly good insight into his mindset. He works around 12 – 20 hours a week in retail, otherwise sits around partying – constantly getting stoned and drunk. Probably buys a good 1-2 ounces of weed a week, and wastes it all smoking joints.

    The kicker is, he then struggles to make ends meet, stealing groceries, clothes (from his employer and op shops) etc..

    His visa ends in March next year, and he has absolutely nothing lined up.

    He comes across as exceptionally entitled, trying to claim to me he was the landlord (I was subtenant) at one point. He’s racked up over $5k in rental arrears after struggling to fill the master bedroom of the rental for which he was the sole leaseholder.

    The guy was dodgy AF, kept avoiding lodging bond with RTBA, and when I called him out on it, booted me out of the house (wtf). He’s now handed in notice to vacate to the agent because ‘its too stressful’.

    So the house is trashed (he’s now illegally dumping rubbish in nearby lane ways), he’s racked up over $5k in rental arrears, has no real qualification, visa ending, has poor English still after 5 years.. Yet still expects to just stay here, grifting and leeching off others.

    If this is on any way indicative of even a small proportion of the level of students we’re importing, then holy hell..

    I’d love to see this guy deported, and I’m sure I can help him out..

  4. Here’s an idea.
    – Ban work rights for international students (unless they are work placements required to complete vocational training credits). Of course many will still work illegally as they do now, so ramp up enforcement of visa compliance.
    – Ban group assignments at undergraduate level – if you can’t pass the course on your own merits, you don’t pass.
    – No permanent residency granted simply for graduating.
    – No processing of residency visas onshore – make them go home then apply to get back in like everyone else, that will eliminate years spent in the country on bridging visas while they exhaust the appeals process.

    • A great slogan for the Vice Chancellors and property developers, who make out like bandits.

      Not so much for the academics that have larger class sizes and need to work unpaid overtime, the students who work for illegal wages, or the rest of us that compete with the students for jobs.

      • Academics and unpaid overtime? I think most of them are on to a pretty good gig. Because let’s face it, most of them would have zero chance of a decent job in the real world.

        I’d be interested in DrSmithy’s opinion on this.

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