Cheating students at the University of Sydney are causing trouble for Australia’s higher education sector

The rise in the number of Chinese nationals cheating to gain a place at the University of Sydney, coupled with mounting evidence of visa fraud linked to Indian students at other universities, poses a risk of deteriorating standards in a tertiary sector linked to a increasing dependence on international students has struggled to survive.

Some international students, who are usually associated with Chinese people or have a Chinese background, have been caught sneaking their way into the University of Sydney with fake secondary school diplomas and English tests, prompting the institution to impose stricter rules on Chinese nationals to consider.

The University of Sydney has seen a rise in fraudulent admissions over the past year, mostly from Chinese international students.

The University of Sydney has seen a rise in fraudulent admissions over the past year, mostly from Chinese international students.Credit: Edwina Pickles

An internal report uncovered a sharp rise in fraudulent admissions detections in 2022 as students returned after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted: more than 250 prospective or enrolled students submitted fraudulent applications, compared to just 15 detections in 2021 So far this year, 53 fraudulent applications for admissions have been detected, more than a quarter of which were already enrolled students.

Australia’s universities have been forced to focus primarily on international students for almost a decade since the federal government cut funding. Fee-paying students, especially international students, fill the gap in their budget. They now make up almost a third of students in higher education. According to education research site Erudera, there are 619,371 international students studying in Australia, of which 361,247 are enrolled exclusively in higher education. And 156,217 of the total intake are from China. NSW is the most popular destination with 244,193. The University of Sydney has the highest proportion of international students among Australian universities: 38.2 per cent of the university’s 47,118 students are from abroad.

The University of Sydney report found that many of the admissions fraud-related cases involved fake high school diplomas from the Canadian province of Ontario, while also noting an increase in fake English tests. The university can now reintroduce the Chinese government’s Education Ministry checks on Chinese qualifications to protect against future scams. Andrew Norton, higher education expert at the Australian National University, said herald The general experience in Australian universities was that the level of cheating among Chinese students was quite high. “If they catch that many, I don’t want to see what the actual number is,” he said.

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This raises questions about the extent of this fraud in the wider tertiary sector. At least four Australian universities last month introduced bans or restrictions on students from certain Indian states in response to the surge in applications from South Asia and the consequent surge in what the Home Office called fraudulent applications. Indian students make up the second largest number of students after the Chinese.

Previously, Australian universities had faced allegations of plagiarism among international students and the embarrassingly high proportion of those who graduated despite not being able to speak or write English satisfactorily. However, some universities also condone the degradation of their standards. With the latest revelation, the University of Sydney appears to have recognized the threat and is preparing to engage the Chinese government to stop Canada’s admissions fraud.

The foreign education industry is worth around US$40 billion annually to Australia, followed by iron ore, coal and natural gas as export commodities. Competition among the world’s universities is fierce and for the brightest students an Australian institution is rarely the first choice. The quality of applicants could drop, and that would lower standards or trigger a financial crisis. If this led to a reassessment of the importance of universities for Australia’s future, that might not be a bad thing. It would be much better, however, if the federal government could see in advance where its extreme austerity is taking our universities and change course.

Justin Scaccy

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