Universities treat local students with contempt

For years, MB has argued that the higher education sector’s lust for international students has damaged pedagogical standards, eroding the quality of education and experience for domestic students.

Our claim is evidenced by the following observations:

  1. The dramatic rise in the number of students to academic staff at Australia’s universities; and
  2. Domestic students being forced into group assignments with non-English speaking foreign students, whereby they are required to act as unpaid tutors that cross-subsidise their marks and help them to pass.

Last month, Associate Professor at the University of Sydney, Salvatore Babones, supported MB’s claims, publishing an article in The Australian explaining how “Uni leaders have abandoned our domestic students”.

According to Babones, Australia’s universities continue to pander to foreign students stuck offshore by conducting lectures online, despite schools and TAFE returning to in-person classes. To add insult to injury, foreign students are receiving discounts on their fees, whereas local students continue to pay their regular tuition costs:

Administrators save on infrastructure costs. Professors can Zoom in from home. International students can stay enrolled, even if they can’t get into the country. And the international student revenues keep flowing in (at least for now).

There’s only one constituency that really seems upset by the lack of in-person classes, and they hardly figure in the calculations of university administrators: Australia’s domestic students. There is no pressing need to pander to them. After all, where else can they go?

Many universities have offered discounts or rebates for inter­national students who continue to enrol despite being taught online, but Australia’s domestic students pay the same tuition as always, and the government pays the same subsidies to support them.

Local students are becoming fed up with the situation, demanding a return to in-person teaching in line with every other profession:

Victoria’s tertiary students are pleading with universities to ditch remote learning and let them return to campus… many universities have adopted a blended model of remote and face-to-face classes…

With Victorian schools back to normal, tens of thousands of fans at the footy and entertainment venues packing in patrons, students are baffled that so many lectures and tutorials are still not being held on campus…

“I don’t know why we can go to the footy but we can’t go to uni. It’s so far-fetched” [First-year psychology student Brittany Iakovidis said].

“It’s ridiculous when we are paying so much more for our courses’’…

“We’re all paying top dollar for these course so we should we should be actually in class’’, [Melbourne University arts student Rose Williams said]…

La Trobe Student Union president Jake McGuinness said… “The uni is saving money by not opening up buildings.’’

The obvious question arises: if our universities believe that online education is just as good as in-person, why do we need to physically import foreign students into Australia to sell them education? Salvatore Babones has the answer:

The cynical answer is that they will continue to embrace online education only as long as international students remain offshore. When travel restrictions are lifted, they will suddenly discover that offline education is superior — since there’s no logical reason for the government to grant visas for students to travel to Australia to take online classes.

That’s right. Australia’s universities are key players in the edu-migration racket, given they earn fat fees on foreign students studying in Australia to gain work rights and permanent residency.

The welfare of domestic students are disregarded entirely, despite public universities existing first and foremost to serve the public. As noted by Babones:

When enterprise-level decisions about the very character of the learning environment are driven by the ­vicissitudes of the international student marketplace, university leaders have clearly lost their way.

The federal government must force universities to return to their primary function of educating Australians, not behaving as migration ‘middle-men’ selling low quality cookie cutter degrees for maximum profit.

Unconventional Economist


  1. That is not true!! Our universities treat local students with utmost respect, local students with cash that is.

    I think our unis can start offering fast-track course options for high net individuals at a cost of 50% premium on the fees.

    • working class hamMEMBER

      With honorary degrees for those willing to invest/launder 5 million or more in RE over 4 years.

  2. “After all, where else can they go?”

    They can go to the University of New England which is only 5% foreign students last I checked.

        • I don’t “not believe” – maybe citizens or permanent visa or some other classification means not international?
          I have couple kids at Notre Dame and they comment about the high number of Asian students there as well. Aussies as well or <5% looks more than it is? I dunno!!

          • That’s the data I found. Might be out of date. Suspect UNE is much less than ND because it’s not in a major city. Haven’t been there myself. Most degrees are a waste of time with a few exceptions – medicine is the only one that springs to mind, but there may be others. The rest can be learned from books or online for yourself many with accredidation options outside university settings. E.g. microsoft/cisco/etc certs for IT, law society exams for lawyers, engineering AFAIK never required certs only demonstrated capability, and others. Also, the university of the people in the USA is 100% online and offers free tuition. You only pay for exams. Uni is a bad deal for most young people money wise. It also makes them think they are smart for adopting the beliefs of The Educated without having done much thinking of their own.

  3. reusachtigeMEMBER

    Too fkn bad! Universities are full of local soft c0cks that have lost the will to fight and fully comply with their woke situations. Suck sh1t to them! I hate university educated people anyway. Think they know stuff but don’t actually understand real-life achievement. Self-educated and self-made for profits and success all the way baby!

    • I get the sense you barely passed high school and mistake rentier capitalism for intelligence.

  4. Ronin8317MEMBER

    Domestic student lowers the ‘profit per customer’ KPI. They’re only tolerated is because somebody needs to do the work in group assignments.

  5. One of the beauties of the modern (neoliberal) class system is that it is increasingly difficult for the overlords to fail downwards, but a walk in the park to fail upwards. Just ask Alan Tudge, or any other Morrison minister.

    Hence, our major universities have million-dollar CEOs, who have all relied heavily on cynical Plan A, mass edu-migration and screw the local kids. However, once COVID torpedoed that, it was evident that they had no Plan B whatsoever.

    Instead of being fired for laziness and incompetence, they’re all sitting on their hands, and badgering the government for an immediate return to Plan A. Even Nobel laureate and weekend vigneron Brian Schmidt is doing this. For shame!

    • Arthur Schopenhauer

      Our neoliberal system is ‘who you know’, not ‘what you know’. Look at the resistance of the AMA leadership hold the Federal Government to account and insist that the transmission of Covid be classified as airborne. None of them will, for fear of ruining their careers.

      • The AMA is a glorified trade union for senior doctors.

        Their main purpose is to restrict domestic entry into medicine and specialist training positions for juniors to keep consultant wages high.

          • Yes, it has other stated functions, but its primary purpose is to create a closed shop to benefit its senior members.

            It is a professional guild, not a trade union in the traditional sense.

        • working class hamMEMBER

          Most self appointed lead bodies, are nothing but ticket clippers, private entities that are nothing more than parasites upon the very group they claim to represent. Master builders is a great example, Sai Global is another private company that owns the copyright for all of the electrical wiring standards in Aust, off topic, but that really gets my goat.

          • Having to pay to get a copy of legislated standards in this age of information is one of the biggest scams going around, along with having to pay government agencies to access online public records.

          • Arthur Schopenhauer

            The privatization of Standards Australia was criminal. Ticket clipping information that taxes and private enterprise has already paid for.

            Really in the ‘Strategically blind’ neoliberal playbook. Standards Australia were used throughout the region and the Middle East. Quite a bit of national leverage lost.

  6. SchiwagoMEMBER

    this is ignoring the elephant in the room. the vast majority of students are rejecting on campus attendance of lectures. it does cost a lot of time and money to do so, students actually prefer recordings. it makes sense to scrap on campus lectures all together and to replace those with meaningful, worthwhile activities.

    • Even StevenMEMBER

      Fair point. When I think back to my uni days, I probably would have preferred remote attendance if such had been offered.

    • this is ignoring the elephant in the room. the vast majority of students are rejecting on campus attendance of lectures.

      Are they really, or is it like the “people want to live in apartments” thing and students are “preferring” remote learning because that’s easier to fit in with the multiple jobs they need to work to afford to study ?


        Monash VC Marg Gardner insists ‘her’ students *all* want to be on campus.
        As I listened this AM, it was clear from her carefully chosen words that she was intent on ‘things returning to normal’ and appeasing the property sector as they share similar ‘interests.’
        MG: “These are our students currently studying with us now, and we know that all our students want to be on campus.”

        Just wrap up any proposal inside the ‘economic recovery of Straya’ and it”’ sail right through.


      • attendance is usually down to 20%- 30% after three weeks into the semester. we see this across courses at our victorian university. I know from my colleagues that the same thing is happening at other universities.

        • How does this percentage compare historically and what reasons are given for ceasing attendance ?

          • SchiwagoMEMBER

            unfortunately, I have no hard data, but my own experience saw a significant reduction in attendance over the last five to ten years; reasons are manyfold, as you say some students simply can’t attend because they have jobs, other students simply prefer to watch a recording in their own time and space. an important development is that the value of traditional stand and deliver lecturing (ie student is passive and unlikely to be engaged for 50 min) is questionable and that active learning experiences are providing value that make better use of the physical presence of students on campus

          • I very rarely went to lectures. Always watched the full semester worth in the last week before exams. Allowed me to remember content, to pause and rewind, to watch at double speed, to skip the filler and get straight to the content.

            Especially helpful for the lecturers who struggled with English. I could slow it down and rewind parts that I could never understand in person.

  7. I’m taking on recent engineering graduates and am dismayed at the lack of hands-on they now receive – for example, labs where they are watching the action instead of doing it themselves – FFS. In essence universities are shifting the education burden downstream to the employers.
    I look at my 15 y.o. son’s prospects for local higher education (STEM? Really, son? You’re in ‘straya, thought about plumbing instead?) and a red mist of rage descends over my eyes – I’m seriously thinking of packing him off to the US uni system instead.

      • Arthur Schopenhauer

        I had a senior executive of a big Aussie company bitching to me that they couldn’t employ a data scientist for $150k.

        “Mate, I could get 5 people in India for that!” ( Yeah right, I thought while smiling and nodding wistfully at the ignorant fuckwittedness that is endemic to Australian companies.)

  8. Have 2 kids at uni – different ones – both prefer online lectures – they can listen to them when convenient, pause & replay when they don’t understand, question their tutor (online or offline as the case may be) – it’s just a technological advance with many of the other advantages of WFH. Daughter even took a job ina country town because could do everything online (but got way behind so gave it up). Now still does everything from home- rarely travels to campus out of choice. Notwithstanding the Covid impacts, the university experience is changing with changing technology, some things for the worse (especially the whole social experience) some for the better.

    • I agree, and almost all students now need to work whether they like it or not due to running costs and high fees, hence, universities have to offer blended online study to accommodate this reality.

      Couple years ago met a group of local (and some international) final year bachelor university students in Melbourne, was well impressed with their aptitude, attitude and maturity in wanting to learn, added was their knowledge of the world too and environmental issues, unlike older generations glued to narrow legacy media (possibly helped by most having an old international family linkage and/or NESB).

      Their complaints were universities strangling options and choices for financial management reasons, poor &/or dumbed down unit/subject design, unqualified vs. over qualified lecturers and unlike a generation ago, they are all paying substantial fees whether local or international, for which many question the value.

  9. Yep Yep.

    I actually love academia. I was a kid in a candy store at University… but I wont go back because its a) Too expensive and b) Drip feeding information slowly just to keep you going to the next course and c) Too foreign.

    In fact, I’d argue Australian Universitys are more like Hollywood then centers of learning. They just want you to go to watch the next movie. They are more focused on you buying the next movie ticket then coming out with anything that’ll help you in the real world.

  10. my toranaMEMBER

    Listening to a fabulous podcast this morning (Conversations with Tyler), Dana Gioia said that to learn your craft you must sit in the presence of a master. not all of us have found our vocation in our 20s but for those who have, in person learning is critical.

  11. Not sure how international students are to blame versus state governments, university management and sporting codes e.g. AFL?

    Further, Salvatore Babones is an Adjunct Fellow at CIS, like IPA, both part of Koch Atlas Network promoting radical right libertarian socioeconomic policies, antipathy towards immigrants and schools/universities i.e. research, science, teaching, learning and content under the guise of ‘freedom of speech’, national security and ‘men’s rights’, plus encouraging hawkish attitudes towards China.

    Australia will not be content till it becomes an absolute, but cheaper, knock off of both the US and UK with a less developed nation’s confidence but much attitude.

  12. Always wondered why the group assignments always have the os students split between study groups. Asked my daughter why don’t they ever lump all the os students in a group of their own? Der dad don’t you realise they need help with English & tutors, that’s why we’re there!!