The ABC TV program Four Corners has this week provided contemporary insights into problems surrounding the recruitment and education in Australia of international students. Degrees of Deception revealed corruption, plagiarism, lowering of assessment standards, poor English skills and misunderstanding of professional ethics. These problems affect not only the university sector but its graduates: they emerge as ill-equipped (and sometimes dangerous) for employment, whether in their home countries or here in Australia.
The program also drew attention to the implications for Australia’s immigration program: ‘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.’
Does this sound like an immigration problem waiting to happen? Actually, it has been long under way. Warnings about the risks to Australia’s education system through the recruitment of international students were sounded in the late 1970s. Since then, many have observed and warned about the abuse of the educational system to fast-track migration outcomes.
Take a look at these gems:
- ‘It is unsatisfactory to allow other means of entry such as the private overseas student program to develop into a form of de facto immigration, as has happened over recent years.’
The Hon. M. J. R. MacKellar, Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, 28 August 1979
- From 1987 to at least 1991, ‘the Federal Government resisted advice to strengthen controls on foreign students taking short-term courses in Australia despite evidence that criminals and prostitutes were entering the country on student visas.’
The Age, 27 March 1991
- In 1993, the Federal Government ‘waived a requirement that [international] students have one year’s work experience before applying for a visa to live here’.
Herald Sun, 19 December 1993
- ‘Our prostituted education system, especially at tertiary level, is seriously addicted to a source of funding which needs to be wound back. Universities might do well out of fee paying foreign students, but for society as a whole this may not be the case. If Australian-born students are excluded from University or from desirable courses, social tensions are created that have a significant cost not always discernible.’
Graeme Campbell, MHR Kalgoorlie, 20 December 1997
- ‘Illegal immigrants are sneaking in Australia’s back door by applying for, and being readily granted, student visas. … [Immigration Minister Mr Ruddock] said that while foreign students contributed $500 million a year to Australia’s annual income, the system was also used to jump the immigration queue’.
Adelaide Advertiser, 2 February 1998
- ‘Four Indonesian students have become [Victoria’s] first convicted dealers of a deadly new designer drug known as ice’.
Herald Sun, 22 January 1999
So these problems are not new, although Four Corners chose not to tease out the immigration implications.
Australia’s excellence in education is now as compromised as its immigration program.
[Further reading: The ‘Background Information’ section on the Degrees of Deception webpage provides a useful bibliography, from the present back to February 2007.]
[Update, 2016 – Here is a useful insight on the medical bills racked up by overseas students and other immigrants without health insurance: ‘Foreigners rack up millions in sick bills’ by Sean Parnell, The Australian, 18 March 2016.]