Plagiarism soars after rise in ‘cash cow’ students
THE influx of international students in Australia's top universities has led to a dramatic increase in plagiarism, a shocking investigation has found.
Pressure to succeed combined with universities allegedly turning a blind eye to the issue has increased the problem, a Four Corners investigation claims.
Australia's top universities are benefiting in the billions from the fees paid by international students eager to study here. The country's international education industry is worth about $32 billion a year.
But academics interviewed by the ABC accused the sector of becoming too reliant on the cash that comes from full-fee paying foreign students.
There are also concerns for the mental wellbeing of students suffering from severe financial stress. Some are vulnerable and are not coping well out of their comfort zone, experts say.
Charles Reichman, a former lecturer at Melbourne's Swinburne University, told Four Corners as the numbers of international students on his course increased, plagiarism became an issue.
"They paid a lot of money to do a course, they weren't told, 'Look, you need these skills to be able to do this course,' so they found themselves, 'What do I do? I can't cope with this'."
Mr Reichman, who founded the university's postgraduate construction law course, told Four Corners he was let go from his position after raising the issue with management.
When asked by the ABC why the university wasn't keen to address the problem, he said: "They'll lose a lot of customers."
In a statement, Swinburne University strongly denied it condoned plagiarism.
Dr Duncan Farrow, a senior mathematics lecturer and academic misconduct investigator at Perth's Murdoch University, noticed a dramatic increase in cases of academic misconduct such as plagiarism by students by the end of last year's first semester.
"Many students seemed to be unable to understand instructions or understand the material that was put in front of them, and there were, also, cases of students who apparently didn't understand how to use a computer in any sophisticated way, so even logging on was a struggle for some students," he told the ABC.
"There were also stories about students not recognising what a USB stick was and other incidents which you would not expect to see from students who have an IT degree."
Associate Professor Sharif As-Saber, from Melbourne's RMIT, said a large number of universities were waiving English language requirements.
He set up a group for international business students because he was worried they were isolated from the Australian community.
He told Four Corners he's seeing an increasing number of international students struggle.
"They have pressure for money and because they need to work and some of them cannot even complete their programs, complete their degrees.
"That is a worry for themselves and for their family. It is a stressful time for them and those kinds of stress could take them to any end."
The latest figures from 2017 show 799,371 international students were enrolled in education programs across Australia. Of those most of the students - 350,472 - were in the higher education sector or TAFE/Vocational training - 217,696.
Some teachers told Four Corners they had come across international students who they felt were not capable of studying a degree in Australia, mostly due to language barriers.
The latest story follows another ABC report from November 2018 where a top university humanities lecturer met with a student who had been admitted to a course but could not speak English at all.
The student had to hire a translator to explain to the lecturer that she had completed her first year of the degree without being able to speak English.
Some higher education degrees can cost more than $100,000 and they do not guarantee work in the student's chosen field.
The Four Corners investigation, led by reporter Elise Worthington, found that some international students had paid massive expenses and left behind family and friends to come to Australia to further their education only to be disappointed with the quality of learning.
One student told the program they had helped other students in group assignments who were struggling in their course, just because they lacked an understanding of English.
A teacher who spoke with the ABC accused the universities of putting their reputation on the line by accepting students who were not capable of the advanced levels of learning that is expected in most degrees.
"I'm not against international students. In fact, I'm for international students, but I have concerns about how we're dealing with it," the academic said.
"Many students seemed to be unable to understand instructions or understand the material that was put in front of them.
"Admitting students who don't have the right qualifications, or right prerequisites, or correct language capabilities is setting them up for failure. This is just not what a university should do. That's not what education is about."
A private education consultant slammed the current system as a "train wreck" and urged the next elected government to deal with it.
The majority of international students hail from China (231,191), followed by India (87,615) and Brazil (36,496). Tens of thousands also come from Nepal, Malaysia, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, Colombia and Indonesia.
Studies in Australia, a website run by the Good Education Group, advises international students to undertake English language preparation courses ahead of their chosen field of study. They say it will help students who need to meet language requirements for course entry, with Visa application criteria, academic results and make settling into life in Australia easier.
INTERNATIONAL STUDENT ENROLMENTS IN OZ
Higher education 350,472
Total in Australia 799,371
WHERE ARE STUDENTS STUDYING?
Figures from Studies In Australia via the Department of Education and Training 2017