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Going easy on foreign students for their fees?

Gigi Foster of UNSW is a researcher whose analysis of the marking of international students' work provided for the first time evidence of universities passing their work despite inadequate English-language skills.

Foster says her statistical analysis reveals that international students are being allowed to underperform and this is being camouflaged to an extent by grade inflation. The dumbing-down of our universities is due to an over-reliance on foreign students, and they will eventually be victims of their own success in luring overseas dollars. Standards will fall, and with tighter restrictions on PR, our universities won't be so attractive internationally.

At the same time, these poor English skills weigh on the results of domestic students in the same tutorials. It would also prohibit the level of conversations for native English speakers.

The research by Dr Foster raises important issues about university grading, especially whether lower language fluency affects grades received.

According to a report in The Australian , an academic in the business faculty at a Victorian university said Dr Foster's concerns were "spot on". The academic, who asked not to be named, said three-quarters of his classes tended to be made up of international students, of which half "could barely hold a conversation".

Gigi Foster has done a study looking at the marks of students of different backgrounds in different classes. The variation she can work with is the performance of international students relative to domestic ones in courses that have varying degrees of these two types (at UniSA and UTS). She consistently found that the internationals do worse but, because courses are graded ‘on the curve’ (the distribution of marks is almost mandatorily the same across large courses in university) international students do better when there are fewer domestics in the course to pinch the higher marks. So their results are relative to the standard of the contemporary students. Thus, our university standards will "improve" (on paper) with more foreign students enrolled!

Amanda Vanstone says .."we have a wonderful system that allows you to get a tertiary education and to pay later . . . much later. So the remaining two-thirds of school-leavers just have to make the best of their lot". It would be interesting to know what study-loan debt Amanda had. She probably did her university education in the days when people could got to university for free, or at least when they were paid a living allowance.

Those studying at TAFE in Victoria, and who already have tertiary qualifications, are also charged with HECS-like loan fees, to deal with "skills shortages". Without parental support, the costs of studying are prohibitive.

There is no "free ride" for university students. The costs are tremendous - in the study-load, the stresses of juggling living and working, in long-term commitment, and financially. The outcome does not always guarantee wealth, or career certainty.

Ironically, while our universities and educational institutions are being touted overseas as of high quality, it is also being publicized that we have "skills shortages". Australians are dumb or lazy?. It means that our government is failing to provide quality affordable education to our young citizens, potential professionals and skilled employees. They are being bypassed in favour of those who are trained overseas, at their own expense. They are also being disadvantaged by foreign students who could be compromising the standard of our own tertiary education system, and the number of supported students in our universities.

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