Monday 20th April 2015
By Linton Besser and Peter Cronau
Australia has been gripped by a national debate over how to fund our university education. But perhaps there’s a more important question: what is it worth?
A Four Corners investigation has unearthed alarming new evidence of a decline in academic standards at institutions around the country.
Lecturers and tutors are grappling with a tide of academic misconduct and pressure from faculty managers to pass weak students. Many say commercial imperatives are overtaking academic rigour.
But why is this happening?
As Federal Government funding for universities has declined, Vice-Chancellors have been forced to look elsewhere to fill the void.
And for much of the past two decades, they’ve been tapping into a booming market – full fee-paying overseas students.
Right now the country’s 40 universities are pulling in billions of dollars from students who are desperate for a degree from an Australian university and the possibility of a job and permanent residency.
But to ensure a steady flow of students from overseas, universities have had to ensure their entry requirements are sufficiently low.
This week, reporter Linton Besser also provides alarming evidence of corruption among the network of overseas agents who tout for business on universities’ behalf.
“The risk is they’re going to put applicants through to the university with fake qualifications or who they know have cheated on tests, or who are trying to undertake some sort of visa fraud.” – Corruption investigator
Ironically, these forces are also placing international students under enormous pressure.
Despite the promises of agents, and after meeting universities’ entry requirements, many don’t have the level of English needed to successfully undertake a degree course.
It’s a situation that leaves students isolated and desperate; a scenario fuelling a thriving blackmarket in plagiarism and the corruption of some academics.
An experienced lecturer has told Four Corners the failure to maintain standards in the course she teaches means graduates could put lives in danger when they begin working.
“They might find themselves being the only registered nurse on duty. And that is something that frightens me.” – University Nursing lecturer
With universities now hooked on the income derived from foreign students, very few university employees can openly acknowledge these problems. Those who do, say that they face the possibility they will lose their job.
DEGREES OF DECEPTION, reported by Linton Besser and presented by Kerry O’Brien