A new report from the Australian government has found that the quality of universities in the country are under threat from “risky” acts being performed by the increasingly aggressive international education sector.
An independent advisory body for the government, the Productivity Commission, discovered that universities in the country are at risk due to a reliance on offshore agents to increase enrollment and maintain visa applications. The report warns that the agents could be “unscrupulous” individuals who would be more likely to recruit students of lesser quality.
Agents are used by the country to recruit 53% of its students, which is more than other English-speaking countries. For example, New Zealand recruits 47% of their students, the United States uses agents for 38%, and Great Britain makes use of the service for 11% of its students.
Agents are paid a high commission by universities, who ask that they recruit the highest-quality students possible. That doesn’t always happen.
“An agent is unlikely to spend significant resources and time pursuing higher-quality students, who have more opportunities and options available to them,” the report found. “The heavy reliance on agents in Australia thus results in a lower quality of students compared with some competitors.”
According to a separate report released last month by broadcaster ABC’s Four Corners program, education agents in China were found to have been accepting falsified high school transcripts and were offering advice on how to avoid requirements pertaining to the English language exam.
The news caused a number of universities in the country to cease their contracts with such agents. Several more schools are currently reviewing their use of agents.
Meanwhile, reports from the top economic adviser for the government suggest that international enrollment at universities in Australia have rebounded from a previous decline, with a total of 590,000 students last year. According to the report, the average annual growth in enrollment between 2012 and 2014 was 7.2%, up from the growth rate between 2002 and 2014, which was 6.7%.
The top 10 source countries include China, India, Vietnam, South Korea, Thailand, Brazil, Malaysia, Nepal, Indonesia and Pakistan. Students from China and India accounted for 37% of student visa holders.
The international education sector is worth around $17 billion per year, writes Jonathan Pearlman for The Straits Times.
While universities in Australia do well in international rankings and attract a great number of foreign students, there is an increasing concern relating to the education standards in place, which rely heavily on income from foreign students.
A recent report from the corruption commission in New South Wales suggested that universities should come down harder on students, as many schools have taken to overlooking cheating in order to receive funding they no longer receive from public investment in higher education. “Students may be struggling to pass, but universities cannot afford to fail them,” said the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
The report suggests placing a limit on the use of foreign education agents and increasing the amount of oversight used with them — and that marketing and admissions departments should be kept separate.