Australia's education minister has written to the head of the agency that oversees the country's higher education standards expressing his “utmost concern” about suspected systemic plagiarism by international students in Australian universities.
The minister, Christopher Pyne, has asked the acting chief commissioner of the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency, Nicholas Saunders, to “remind all higher education providers of their obligations" under federal rules to "deliver higher education in Australia." The minister asked the agency to “seek assurances from all higher education providers that they have in place rigorous academic governance processes to mitigate the risk of such occurrences.”
Pyne also wants TEQSA to ensure that institutions that have been named in news media reports as having had acts of plagiarism “are taking the necessary steps to counteract this type of student misconduct.”
It was reported last week that the University of Newcastle and the University of Wollongong are investigating the use of the MyMaster service, which allows students to purchase essays and exams online. The University of Technology Sydney, Macquarie University and the University of New South Wales are also investigating.
Pyne has asked Saunders to report back to him “before the end of 2014” and to work with the federal Education Department.
Higher education is a multibillion-dollar export industry for Australia, the third largest after iron ore and coal exports.
International students have become an important source of funding in the wake of increasing student numbers since domestic places were uncapped by the previous Labor government, with per capita funding not keeping pace.
The international student market helps universities fund quality research, without which Australian universities would not be able to maintain their international rankings. But it is a catch-22: clamp down on international student standards and risk funding streams and therefore research output; don’t, and the teaching reputation of Australian universities will suffer.
Many academics feel that international students with inadequate written and sometimes even verbal English language skills are being allowed entry into courses simply because they pay two to three times the fees.
Has this led university administrators to turn a blind eye to misconduct by international students? Does the importance of international students to the viability of courses mean teaching academics turn a blind eye to such practices, to preserve their teaching areas? Is the evidence of systematic cheating by some international students uncovered recently a consequences of all this?
Perhaps ironically, Coalition-proposed reforms that deregulate the sector are the best solution: allowing universities to charge domestic students more, helping their budget bottom line.
But the reforms include a 20 percent cut to university funding as well, which may act as a further incentive to lower standards, turn a blind eye to misconduct and keep the floodgates open for some international students who help keep universities in the black, but simply aren’t capable of studying in English.
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