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International Student Income for Universities in Australia

From New Matilda Australia Higher Education 28 Nov 2014

Using International Students As Cash Cows Does No One Any Favours.  Poaching overseas students for their fees leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and undermines the quality of the university sector, writes Dr Richard Hil.

Recent revelations in the Sydney Morning Herald that a number of international students at universities across New South Wales are ‘functionally illiterate’ and have submitted assignments written by ‘ghost writers’ is not exactly striking news, at least not for many university academics and administrators.

Despite all the institutional talk about ‘world class education’, ‘excellence’, ‘quality assurance’ and so forth, educators who mark assignments and engage with students in tutorials and online forums, are acutely aware of literacy problems that beset both international and domestic students.

Many of these problems can – at least in the case of Australian students – be traced back to the education they receive at school. Research by the Australian Council for Educational Research in 2013 clearly indicates a drop in levels of academic performance among Australian school children when compared to their counterparts in many Asian countries.

More generally, it is the enrolment policies of universities themselves that have exacerbated literacy and related problems…..

…When it comes to the question of how and why international students with low levels of English language proficiency manage to get into university, we need look no further than the cash register. The fact is that international students are now big business for universities and for the Australian economy in general, accounting for over $16 billion dollars in annual revenue, making it the country’s fourth largest export industry.

Given the precarious nature of government funding, universities have become heavily reliant on income generated from the upfront, full fees paid by international students.

With this cohort comprising just under a third of all Australian university students, and in the case of Bond University, Federation University and Central Queensland University exceeding 40 per cent – this is an important revenue source (especially when you consider that international students pay up to three times more than domestic students for the same course).

It’s not too difficult, therefore, to see why universities are reluctant to go public about literacy and other problems facing international students. After all, it’s in their interest not to disclose such things, for fear of losing much-needed revenue in an extremely competitive higher education market…

…So what is going on here? Why are so many international students functionally illiterate? Part of the answer is to be found in the recruitment practices of many universities.

A few months back, I spoke to Roy, a former international recruitment officer at a leading Australian university who, for many years, dealt with recruitment agents of ‘varied integrity’ and similarly suspect ‘middle men’.

Roy alleged that the ‘international recruitment racket’ was just that, replete with fraud and corruption, including ‘sweeteners’ paid by ‘dodgy’ agents to bank managers in order to obtain favourable financial statements, and the ‘coaching’ of applicants by agents to get them through English language tests.

Such practices have been well documented in a number of studies….

…But there are many other challenges faced by international students as they try, often punishingly, to get through three years or more of expensive higher education.

In a 2011 report, Daniel Pejic from the University of Melbourne’s School of Social and Political Science, noted that international students lack access to some of the most basic welfare, industrial and education rights afforded to domestic students….

… Pejic concludes that: ‘a paradigmatic shift is required from thinking about international students in economic terms, to considering them in human terms’.

He has a point.

For more news reports and research about international education, international students, marketing and recruitment click through.

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