The Silent Exploitation Of Underqualified International Students

We live in a global society where ideas are constantly being shared around the world. One of the great byproducts of that fact is a rise in international students. I moved across the country for my post-graduate and plan to do my final year across the other side of the world. It never occurred to me that universities would be using this rise in international students to up their capital without regard for the actual students involved.

That’s the thing about international students: they come over, often for only a part of a degree, and they usually pay full fees, and then more often than not, they return to their home country. I know I will probably go back to Australia to work after my exchange.

As a result, Australian universities (and perhaps others – let me know!) have been bulking out their degrees with full-fee paying internationals. Which is great, because like I said before, knowledge sharing and cross-cultural experiences are what life is all about! What’s less great is when the universities start having less regard for the actual service they are providing (an education), and more regard for the fees they’re collecting.

Before I continue, I should mention that this is anecdotal; a collection of stories from my own experience and my friends, who go to a variety of universities and are studying predominantly engineering, science and arts. However, there’s a pretty clear consensus among everyone I’ve spoken to about the issue.

What seems to happen is this: universities accept full-fee paying international students, allowing much lower entrance scores and English tests that they would for domestic students. This leads to students being in courses that they don’t have adequate background knowledge for, or failing to learn anything from their courses (even if they could easily get the concepts) because they don’t have the language skills required.

My partner is doing a Masters in aeronautical engineering – a niche course with only about 30 students total. He was assigned a group project with five members. Three of them did not understand basic combustion.

I’m currently doing a law degree with an abundance of very qualified international students, which makes the unqualified students all the more obvious. It pains me to see students in the library, using their phones to translate readings back into their native language – what a disadvantage they’re at during exams if they can’t fully translate passages!

In a final year of her politics degree, a friend was partnered with an exchange student. They had to write a 5,000-word paper together. The exchange student had never been required to write such a paper before, and she had no understanding of the Australian political system. Not surprising for a student from another country – but why had she been placed in a third year, advanced Australian politics unit?

It doesn’t seem like it’s just Australia, either; a friend of mine got accepted into medicine in Germany (coming from Australia). She leapt at the opportunity, because at least she got accepted into the degree she wanted! She had a basic grasp of German, how hard could it be? After two years and huge expenses, she had to call it quits and start again back home; she could barely understand her courses and tests.

This seems like an incredibly counterproductive exercise to me. If international students are accepted irrespective of their language ability or prior study, how can they possibly benefit? They spend small fortunes on degrees that they scrape through with little understanding, and the university is left with a portion of their graduates being immensely underqualified.

The experience of international study is undoubtedly a valuable one – but is it really something to be undertaken irrespective of whether or not you actually gain the education you’re paying for? Universities need to put the student experience first and be realistic about their acceptance process. An education is an invaluable asset; make sure you’re paying for something you are able to receive.

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