Aussie universities to plunge down rankings. So what?

Australian universities earned over $7 billion in student fees from China in 2019, with outgoing Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven describing the sector’s reliance on Chinese markets as being like a “drug addiction”.

Craven says the big universities will have to accept that their budgets will never be as big as they were before COVID-19, and that Australian universities will drop out of the global top 100 higher education rankings. He also says most vice-chancellors know very little about politics or government.

From The Australian:

Professor Craven said the Group of Eight had to accept their budgets would never be as large as they were before COVID-19 and Australia’s position among the world’s 100 leading higher education institutions was “finished”.

“One solution is very simple: the Go8 universities basically have to accept their budgets will never be what they’re like before,” he said. “How are they going to do that? By trying to save money on staff and teaching … you’re not going to be able to do that, you’re going to have to cut research.

“You’re going have to accept you’re no longer going to be Manchester United on a good day — you’re going to be Wolverhampton Wanderers.

“That’s something the government needs to think about. If that’s right — the days of lots of Australian universities being in the top 100 (world university rankings) is finished. This is after cannibalisation, after trying to kill your neighbour. One has to contract”…

Professor Craven said the over-reliance on China’s student markets was a major problem.

“The old system of relying on international students is over, it’s finished,” he said. “The wider market has collapsed and there is no certainty about when it will come back. And with the Chinese market — which universities were reliant on — there is not just the issue of COVID but possibly sovereign risk.

“They all knew about the issue with China. I would go on panels and publicly warn about this, and the other vice-chancellors would say nothing. It was like a drug ¬addiction.”

MB has continually questioned the odious links between international students and university rankings.

In a nutshell, a system has been created by the federal government and Australia’s universities to encourage strong growth in full fee paying international students via:

  • The Australian government offering the world’s most generous student visa working rights and opportunities for permanent residency; and
  • Australia’s universities dropping entry and teaching standards.

The bounty from exploding student numbers (see next chart) has then been funneled into research aimed purely at propelling Australia’s universities up international rankings, rather than into areas that actually provides benefits to Australians.

As gaining a higher ranking equates to more prestige and is a sign of quality, these rankings were then used as a marketing tool to further grow international student enrolments, alongside justifying higher fees.

While universities ploughed the international student billions into research to boost their rankings and executive salaries, actual teaching quality was destroyed.

This is evidenced by the ratio of students to academic staff rising materially across Australia’s universities during the long international student boom:

The majority of international students come from Non-English Speaking Backgrounds (NESB), and require more teaching effort than domestic students. As such, the bigger student loads, alongside the higher maintenance of international students, indicates a significant decline of both teaching capacity and quality across Australia’s university system.

We also witnessed domestic students carrying NESB students through their courses via group assignments, alongside an increase in soft marking scandals and cheating scandals and the erosion of free speech as international students number ballooned.

The whole stinking university edifice needs a royal commission to clean it out.

Operating low-quality degree factories for maximum revenue was never in the national interest.

Australia’s universities must return to their primary role of providing high quality education to Australians.

Unconventional Economist


  1. The drug addiction comparison is apt – and it’s time for some detox.

    Covid will do what government and opposition refuse to do, and the timing of ongoing issues in NSW/VIC should help put a stake in the heart of the overseas student proponents.

  2. Having witnessed my daughter doing Engineering assignments in groups of 4 to 5 with 2 Australian Residents doing everything & O/S students who can’t speak English doing complete crap that I could have done as a dumb arse engineer I have no doubt that the exit of O/Seas students is a plus for Australia & the University sector.

  3. Without decent English skills these foreign students were never going to get jobs in their so called field of study/qualification. Whats the point of an expensive piece of paper if in the end it doesn’t get you your desired career outcome. Residency kind of becomes useless unless you are rich enough to prop up your lifestyle with mummy and daddy’s money.

    • happy valleyMEMBER

      Plenty of them and then the rest, having “got” their residency, are happy to work for slave wages to assist in the LNP’s drive for absolute wage slavery.

      • Yep. Providing the anchor for the familial migration chain is the goal. Better employment prospects en route is a desired bonus but not a deal breaker.

    • Unskilled jobs still provide better lifestyle than the home countries for unskilled people. Free healthcare, first world (ish) amenities. It’s simply an easy path to residency.

    • Hernando de Soto

      Many do get employed. My old company used to employ them They do special interview prep skills and learn answers by rote.

      You’d be surprised how many interviewers they fool. HR likes them too, because of diversity quotas.

  4. reusachtigeMEMBER

    What a losing attitude. Why give such failing thoughts airtime? No wonder he is leaving. Hopefully replaced by a winner that will strive to be the best institution for overseas students and will work hard to be top 100. Top 10 even.

  5. “Australia’s universities dropping entry and teaching standards” to achieve top rankings. And now they can’t, they’ll lose top ranking. Oh the irony.

    Top article.

  6. The USC built a brand spanking new campus down the road from me, opening just in time for the pandemic. My guess is that it cost at least $100M, probably closer to $200M. Since it was completed, I think I’ve only seen a handful of cars parked in the multi-story car parking attached to the building.

  7. Jumping jack flash

    Lets not forget that the feds and the states originally caused this through deregulation and funding cuts.

    When i was halfway through high school, universities were deregulated and that saw a heap of little unis spring up all asking for government funding.

    Then uni funding was cut to the bone and halfway through my first uni course we saw the very first foreign students. Just a couple in IT. They received a LOT of attention from the lecturers which we thought was odd, and never seemed to know anything about the work we were doing, yet still passed, which was equally odd.

    Flash forward to today and we have the same or worse landscape with regards to regulation and funding, university “places” are a distant memory, the government pushing TAFE courses and students into uni, and traditional TAFE courses being turned into degrees for no good reason.

    Bring back TAFE and get rid of all those ridiculous uni courses including IT, engineering, education, nursing, etc, and put them back into TAFE where they belong.

    • Injunearin might be just a TAFE course to you but as a degree certified Injunear I believe this course belongs in Uni.
      But seriously, there are some excellent Engineering schools in Australia, there was nothing second rate about UNSW Electrical Engineering when I attended, absolutely first rate university, not quite at the Cambridge MIT Delft standard, but most definitely to be included in the next group with schools like TU Munchen, Georgia Tech, UCLA etc.
      They’ve still got a good reputation but the quality of their graduates is definitely slipping

    • Hey, I did IT at uni, and it’s kept me employed up until now. I must admit that TAFE IT courses were used by some as a launching point for an IT degree at uni. It’s the nonsense TAFE courses that need to be got rid of.

    • If you want your bridges and buildings to not fall down, water from a tap, light at the flick of a switch etc then you need Engineering to be taught at Uni. To people capable of understanding the language the course is taught in.

    • I'll have anotherMEMBER

      Another engineer here, B.Civ and M.UPlan.

      You do not want engineers designing cars / roads / walls / aircraft etc. without a degree.

      It sorts out the pretenders from the serious. The public hold a high degree of trust in engineers compared to most professions, with good reason.

  8. Australia’s universities must return to their primary role of providing high quality education to Australians.
    Agreed, but as the Irishman said when asked how to get to Dublin : If I wanted to get to Dublin, I wouldn’t start from here.

    Much the same problem exists with our University sector.

    • Shades of MessinaMEMBER

      Covid has accelerated the rise of private on-line providers and these offer much better content, delivery options, value for money and flexibility than unis ever could. Will take a big chunk of their revenue moving forward methinks.

      Unis are becoming increasingly redundant and their role as a wealth transfer mechanism from the middle class might thankfully be coming to an end.

      • Absolutely, either the Unis get their act together or these on-line training institutes will eat their lunch.
        this means making the Lectures and Tutorials worth while and worth attending good universities are as much a function of the Student eco system they foster as any course content that they teach. It’s hard to have this sort of collaboration in an online environment.
        Look at Facebook, would it even exist today if not for a group of kids who thought it’d be fun to….?

        • People have been predicting the demise of universities due to online competitors for a long time now. It hasn’t happened yet and never will. They have had zero impact on uni demand.

          Ultimately when people go to a University what they want is the degree. The quality of the teaching is infinitely less important. Employers too utilise a uni degree as a screening device for potential employees, taking into account to varying degrees the reputation of the uni and the marks of the student.

          • You’re probably right but if this is becomes the sector of the education market where our universities choose to compete then they’d better find a catchy slogan
            Like “Go Land Crabs!” otherwise even the University of American Samoa will be quietly laughing at our Go8

  9. Yep. Educations one of the most valuable resources Australia has and we just piss it away.

    Personally, Im just waiting for Australia to collapse. This country needs a wake up call.

  10. All of the above is true and then some. The type of people who flourish in the current university system should be the first to be shown door. They are incompably of correcting it, even if they wanted to.

  11. Well said MB you have been steady and strong in your criticism of the international student issue and traitorous uni admin and keep bringing it up relentlessly. As Mollison said, give an Amazonian Pigmy a tee shirt and chainsaw and he will clear the Amazon for you. Most do not see the Big Picture, do not see beyond the moment and that just in their vicinity. Thanks MB.

  12. I'll have anotherMEMBER

    Leith, good job exposing this profiteering from what should be a place to learn first and foremost.

    Unis are primarily not:
    – Places to get skills for the workforce
    – Profit generating businesses
    – New research doctoral studies focused
    – A pissing competition for the top 100 places based on dubious ranking metrics

    Whilst they do have some focus in the above areas, universities should mostly be concerned with providing a place to go to build character through education.

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